5 Arkansas researchers to receive $75,000 grants from alliance

Five researchers in Arkansas will each receive $75,000 grants over three years under the Arkansas Research Alliance's fellows program to recognize university research leaders, officials said Thursday.

The research alliance is a public-private partnership that says it invests in and concentrates on research that stimulates innovation, encourages collaboration and strengthens opportunity.

"This is a good example of the private sector partnering with the state to enhance research in this state with our higher education institutions that are working together," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at news conference in the governor's conference room.

Laurence Alexander, chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said one of the research alliance's five new fellows is Rebecca Lochmann, interim chairman and director of the Aquaculture and Fisheries Center of Excellence at UAPB.

"Early on, Dr. Lochmann focused on establishing nutrient requirements and feeding regimes for golden shiners and other baitfish species because of Arkansas' No. 1 ranking in baitfish production," he said. "When the U.S. catfish industry was challenged with competition from foreign imports and high feed costs, Dr. Lochmann redirected her research toward cost-effective alternative feed ingredients to help farmers maintain their profitability."

Asked whether the grant is considered small in research circles, Lochmann said the grant is totally unexpected because she didn't apply for it, "so anything extra is always good."

"We're at a point with our funding cycles that I'll probably put it toward a graduate student or a person toward a post-[doctorate] and try to bring in matching funds. But it is a very nice bonus and that's the way I look at it and it's also an honor," she said.

According to officials for these institutions, the alliance's four other new fellows are:

• Laurent Bellaiche, a distinguished professor in the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's department of physics and Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering. His group carries out research in the field of computational condensed matter physics.

• Tansel Karabacak, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His research focuses on the properties and applications of nanostructured and thin film materials.

• Merle G. Paule, director of the Division of Neurotoxicology and a senior biomedical research scientist at the National Center for Toxicological Research -- a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab in Jefferson County. Paule has played a role in developing an automated system for monitoring multiple complex brain functions in children, nonhuman primates and rodents.

• Mark Smeltzer, professor in the department of microbiology and immunology and director of Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Inflammatory Responses at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

His research focuses on infections caused by the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus with a particular emphasis on those infections involving orthopedic devices. He also serves as the program director of the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence that's funded with an $11 million grant from the U.S. Institute of General Medical Sciences to promote the careers of new investigators and build the infectious research capacity at UAMS and across the nation.

These five new fellows increase the research alliance's ranks of fellows to 14, according to the alliance.

The alliance also has a scholars program that started in 2010 to help the state's research universities recruit superior talent, said alliance board Chairman Sonja Hubbard, who also is chief executive officer of E-Z Mart Stores Inc. The alliance's board of directors includes business leaders who contribute their time and money to help fund the alliance, she said.

Since fiscal 2010, the state has provided $8.3 million to the research alliance, including $1.1 million in fiscal 2017, according to state Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin. According to the alliance's latest available tax return, the alliance received government grants of $1.21 million, $521,026 from FDA contracts and $265,000 from membership dues. The alliance had total expenses of $1.6 million in 2014.

Metro on 08/04/2017

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