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UT Gathers Regional Scientists to Address NIH Grand Challenges

Taylor Eighmy, Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, opens the conference.

As part of its aggressive pursuit of new collaborations and deeper knowledge, UT’s Office of Research and Engagement recently brought together more than 100 researchers from a dozen institutions across the Southeast for a regional conference focused on solving major health crises.

Kimberly Eck, Director of Research Development, and panelist Bob Davis, Director of Center in Biomedical Informatics at UTHSC and UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair in Biomedical Informatics.

The impetus for the conference was the 21st Century Cures Act, passed by the US Congress in 2016. The act authorized $6.3 billion in funding, much of which went to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue important research questions and challenge the nation’s scientists to rise to the occasion of solving major health crises. Among the major pillars of the act were the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain), the Cancer Moonshot (aimed at accelerating cancer research and making more therapies available to more patients while improving our ability to prevent and detect cancer at an early stage), and the Precision Medicine Initiative (aimed at generating scientific evidence necessary to move the concept of precision medicine- an emerging approach for disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual variations in genes, environment, and lifestyle- into clinical practice).

Nitesh Chawla, the Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications (iCeNSA) at the University of Notre Dame.

The 21st Century Cures: Southeast Conference at UT explored those initiatives and their intersections with big data, materials and sensors, and biology.

The conference featured an evening keynote by Nitesh Chawla of the University of Notre Dame and a morning scientific keynote by UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Molecular Biophysics Jeremy Smith. Guests attended sessions led by NIH leaders as well as faculty researchers funded by NIH. Topics ranged from specific research studies to broader sessions on topics such as peer review and rigor and reproducibility.

“Partnerships are critical for us here in the Southeast in order to tackle these and many other grand challenges,” said Taylor Eighmy, vice chancellor for research and engagement. “It was wonderful to see such interest in collaboration and engagement on these major questions from our attendees, both from the University of Tennessee and our regional partners.”



Jessie Holder Tourtellotte (jholde11@utk.edu,  865-974-1019)