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UGA awards Global Research Collaboration Grants for 2017-18

Athens, Ga. — Six collaborative, international research projects housed at the University of Georgia have received seed funding under UGA’s Global Research Collaboration Grant program. The program funds a wide range of early-stage projects with significant global impact — with each initiative receiving between $4,000 and $8,000 to cover initial project costs.

“Some of the most important challenges facing researchers today are global in nature,” said Brian Watkins, director of international partnerships at the Office of International Education. “Solving them requires international engagement, and by providing initial support to promising projects, UGA can enhance its global reach and reputation.”

Funding is provided twice a year by the Office of International Education and the Office of Research, matched by academic departments. Researchers across campus may submit their proposals for the next round of funding through Oct. 10, 2017.

“These types of seed grants showcase the depth and breadth of the international research collaborations being carried out by UGA faculty with partners in the top universities around the world,” said Noel Fallows, associate provost for international education. “Our facilitation further positions the Office of International Education as the nexus for international teaching and research initiatives at UGA.”

Juliet Sekandi, department of epidemiology and biostatistics, and Christopher Whalen, Ernest Corn Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, both from the College of Public Health, are collaborating with Esther Buregyeya, Lynn Atuyambe, and Frederick Makumbi from the Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda on mobile phone-based treatment monitoring for tuberculosis patients. The project will develop a pilot mobile app and test the feasibility of remote observation by heath workers to ensure patients are complying with their treatment regimens.

Tuberculosis is a massive public health issue, with an estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide infected with the bacteria, 9.6 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths annually. With up to 30 percent of patients not following their treatment protocol, multi-drug-resistant TB has become more prevalent. Meanwhile, 85 percent of the patients who visit public clinics in Uganda own mobile phones — thus providing the means to allow health workers to observe medication dosing by those patients without requiring the patients to travel to the clinics.

James Beasley, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Warnell School of Forestry, is collaborating with Thomas Hinton of Fukushima University, Japan, to study the effects of low dose radiation exposure on wildlife inhabiting the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. The two researchers recently collaborated on similar research in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In this study, they will collect pilot data on the distribution of wildlife species in the zone, and will fit several wild boar with GPS-dosimetry collars to collect location and radiation exposure data on the animals. The goal of this project is to provide a picture of the ecological consequences of energy production and potential accidents, using a systems approach to assess radiation effects on wildlife at molecular, individual, population, and community levels.

Nicole Gottdenker from the department of pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, John Drake and John Paul Schmidt from the Odum School of Ecology, and Travis Glenn of the department of environmental health sciences in the College of Public Health, are collaborating with Azael Saldaña and Jose Calzada from the Instituto Conmemorativo Gogas de Estudios de la Salud in Panama and Jennifer Peterson from the Universidad Peruana Cayetabo Heredia in Peru on the relationship between the spread of palm oil plantations and the transmission of Chagas disease.

Prior research has found that the spread of agroindustry — specifically oil palm plantations — facilitates infectious disease outbreaks. Palm trees often attract small mammalian hosts of the organism that causes Chagas disease, a leading cause of heart disease in the Americas, with 8 million people infected and 25 million at risk of infection. These mammals can infect kissing bugs, which also inhabit the palm trees, and thereby transmit infection to humans. The project will collect data to help researchers identify and understand potential disease transmission scenarios, including samples collected directly from the palms to check for prevalence of the host insects and their infection rates.

David Okech from the School of Social Work, Nathan Hansen from the department of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, and Jody Clay-Warner from the department of sociology, Franklin College, are collaborating with John Anarfi from the University of Ghana on giving survivors of human trafficking a voice in developing effective reintegration services. The first phase of their collaboration has produced research on the psychological, social and economic consequences of trafficking, and the seed grant will fund the next phase, which includes interviewing survivors and identifying service gaps in existing reintegration programs.

Javad M. Velni, Changying “Charlie” Li, and WenZhan Song of the College of Engineering are collaborating with Herbert Warner from Hamburg University of Technology in Hamburg, Germany to develop tools to help maintain communications and avoid data bottlenecks among complex systems of robots when they’re performing joint tasks in harsh environments that may interfere with normal communication methods. The portion of the work funded by the grant will focus on developing a system model and a communication method that cuts down on the amount of data that must be transferred among robots.

Nina Wurzburger from the School of Ecology is collaborating with Michael P. Oatham from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Jack Brookshire from Montana State University to study the interaction of various soil nutrients on a forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Using new field studies and taking advantage of more than 30 years of tropical forest data from the Victoria-Mayaro Forest Reserve in Trinidad, the team seeks to understand how these forests respond to global changes in the environment, and eventually to develop a model for sustainable forestry in tropical regions.

“This program is a vital component of our ongoing efforts to increase international collaborations, help solve the planet’s grand challenges, and secure additional funding for the world-class research conducted at UGA,” said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee.

Applications are due Oct. 10, 2017, for the fourth round of Global Research Collaboration Grant funding. Details can be found on the Office of Research website: https://research.uga.edu/research-announcements/2017/08/15/grcg-call-fourth-round/

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Writers: Sue Myers Smith, 706-542-4208, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Contact: Brian Watkins, 706-542-2900, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.