There are 35 CoEE Endowed Chairs now working in South Carolina, and these top scientists and engineers are successfully attracting federal dollars to the state to fund their groundbreaking work.
One recent grant is from the National Institutes of Health and will be used to tackle an emerging health concern, the growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. Resistant microbial infections are widespread in hospitals and communities. Conservative estimates indicate that more than 100,000 people die from hospital-acquired and persistent infections.
The grant will fund research that will explore the possiblities of treating drug-resistant bacteria with antibiotics that have been infused with nanoparticles. One of the principal investigators on the project is CoEE Endowed Chair in Polymer Nanocomposites at USC Dr. Brian Benicewicz. The study will examine how nanoparticles can be used to change the way antibiotics are delivered to cells. It is the first study to look at antibiotics infused with nanoparticles and how they can cure infections that have become resistant to medicines currently available.
A second recently announced grant comes from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop fuel cells for portable power packs for U.S. troops. The research will be conducted by three CoEE Endowed Chairs at USC, all with expertise related to fuel cells—Benicewicz, Dr. Kenneth Reifsnider, and Dr. Jochen Lauterbach. All three researchers are considered world leaders in their fields and this will be the first time the three of them have collaborated on a major project. The research will focus on developing lightweight fuel cells that work using a variety of fuels such as hydrogen or solid oxides.
Renowned scientist Dr. Frank Treiber has been recruited to South Carolina as the CoEE Endowed Chair in Technology Applications to Prevent and Manage Disease and Reduce Risk at MUSC. Treiber will lead the Technology Center to Enhance Healthful Lifestyles, a USC CoEE in which MUSC is a partner.
Chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease are common causes of disability and mortality in the United States. Sedentary lifestyles and poor diets, along with the obesity that often results, are major reasons why people develop these chronic health problems. Scientists such as Treiber are developing new technologies to help patients make better lifestyle choices that lead to longer, healthier lives.
At the CoEE, Treiber and his colleagues will develop technology to help citizens from all segments of society, but especially rural and underserved populations, make healthier lifestyle choices with the goal of reducing health disparities.
Potential products that could emerge from Treiber’s work include software and information systems for mobile phones, personal digital assistants, i-Pod technologies, and web-based programs. These products could be personalized for patients and designed to help them change their behavior by increasing physical activity, altering their diets, reducing stress, not smoking, and taking their medications on schedule.
Treiber believes work at the Technology Center will foster economic growth in South Carolina in several ways. First, new technology products will be developed at the center that could be commercialized. Second, new hardware or software companies could be developed or recruited to the state, resulting in high-tech jobs. He notes that the work of the center could also result in indirect economic benefits to South Carolina through improved work productivity, decreased absenteeism, and decreased health care costs.
In late October, the Endowed Chairs who have been recruited to South Carolina through the CoEE Program convened in Columbia for the second annual Council of Chairs forum. The Council was first established in October 2009 as the collection of CoEE Endowed Chairs to advise, coordinate, and provide leadership to South Carolina in matters related to science and technology and knowledge-based economic development.
“The Council is committed to maximizing the benefits of the CoEE Program by coalescing statewide resources to develop a strong science base, support economic growth, and enhance the state’s national and global image and competitiveness,” explains CoEE Endowed Chair Dr. Dick Swaja, past chair of the Council.
According to several of the Endowed Chairs who attended the event, a highlight of the meeting was the opportunity to meet their colleagues at other universities to discuss opportunities for collaboration. For example, Dr. Sue Levkoff, CoEE Endowed Chair at the SeniorSMART Center of Economic Excellence, says that she had the opportunity to talk with at least three different chairs with whom she sees immediate potential for interdisciplinary collaboration.
“I spoke with another Endowed Chair who works with computer-based technologies and kids. Since my work is with older adults, he and I could combine forces and work together in many different areas. I see lots of potential areas for future collaborations among the Endowed Chairs,” Levkoff said.
“Based on the enthusiasm, scope of impact, and opportunities resulting from the forum, the Council is positioned to lead the state to the next level of knowledge-based economic development—national visibility and leadership,” said Swaja.
The S.C. Centers of Economic Excellence Program was established by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University, and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state funds. The program also supports CoEE Endowed Chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence. By investing in talent and technology, the CoEE Program is designed to fuel the state's knowledge-based economy, resulting in high-paying jobs and an improved standard of living in South Carolina.
For more information on the CoEE Program, visit www.sccoee.org.