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Researchers harness metabolism to reverse aggressiveness in leukemia

University of Georgia researchers, with colleagues from the University of Tokyo, have identified a new drug target for the two most common types of myeloid leukemia, including a way to turn back the most aggressive form of the disease. They published their findings today in the journal Nature.

By blocking a protein called BCAT1, the researchers were able to stop cancer cell growth in mice and human blood samples from leukemia patients. The BCAT1 protein activates the metabolism of a group of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, that are essential building blocks of proteins in all cells and thus necessary for aggressive leukemia cells to grow. The same enzymes are also responsible for the development of brain and lung tumors. By blocking the BCAT1 gene, the research team was able to make the disease less aggressive and slow growing, similar to the treatable chronic phase.

The findings suggest that BCAT1 may be an ideal therapeutic target that does little harm on normal blood production. Furthermore, results indicated that BCAT1 is also a key player in acute myeloid leukemia, which is more prevalent than the blast crisis chronic myeloid leukemia. Patients with AML with high BCAT1 tend to survive less than those with low BCAT1. Blocking the BCAT1 activity also proved effective on human acute myeloid leukemia cells.

The researchers worked with colleagues at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility, the UGA Cancer Center, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Tokyo in Japan. 

An online version of the full study is available here

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Shawn Foster named UGA’s first Beinecke Scholar

Shawn Foster, a University of Georgia Honors student majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, was one of 20 students nationwide selected as a Beinecke Scholar. He is the first UGA student to receive the honor, which awards $34,000 to third-year students with demonstrated financial need who will pursue graduate studies in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

Foster plans to earn a doctorate in linguistics. A first-generation college student, he is from the 800-person town of Franklin, which is situated in west Georgia between Carrollton and LaGrange with Alabama as its closest neighbor.

In Foster's first independent research project, started this past January, he is digging into language's changes and variations across the South with Margaret Renwick, an assistant professor of linguistics in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. He intends "to continue his research in this and other areas-ranging from the social and cultural aspects of language to the mathematical underpinnings of human speech"-during his career in linguistics, he said.

He's excited to see how his research, which is being conducted as part of a larger ongoing project, "Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf," will be used. "Other researchers, not just other linguists, can take the results and run with them," Foster said. "Engineers and programmers can build better speech recognition programs. Journalists and critics can write about how depictions of the South in media stack up to the reality of the region."

Foster speaks Spanish and Russian and is learning Arabic. In addition to his current research project, he has been the humanities content editor of the Journal for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. He was also a research assistant in UGA's Work and Family Experience Research Laboratory and the Leadership and Performance Dynamics Lab.

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UGA awarded Innovation Corps Site status

The University of Georgia has been named an Innovation Corps Site by the National Science Foundation, enhancing UGA's ability to turn ideas and research discoveries into commercially viable products or services by providing early evaluation of projects through a customer discovery process.

The I-Corps award will enable UGA to serve up to 30 new startup projects a year, adding to the university's rapidly growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and assisting the campus-wide collaboration focused on helping all entrepreneurial projects move to the marketplace.

Innovation Gateway, the university's arm for translating research discoveries into products and companies, will serve as the hub for I-Corps UGA, but collaborators will include UGA's Entrepreneurship Program, College of Engineering and numerous faculty and staff across campus.

"The hardest steps in creating a startup are at the beginning," said Ian Biggs, senior associate director of UGA's Innovation Gateway and the program's lead. "Becoming an I-Corps Site will allow us to provide more robust services, including financial resources. We'll be able to help anyone with an entrepreneurial idea that needs testing in the marketplace. This also builds on the recent $500,000 award from the Department of Commerce to create a prototyping center focused on engineering and materials science."

UGA is one of 50-plus I-Corps Sites, programs that are based at academic institutions to catalyze the engagement of multiple local teams in technology transition and innovation. Ideas or projects supported by I-Corps Sites must be focused in an area of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, but can originate from faculty research, student work, industrial projects or ideas from the community.

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Two UGA buildings named for business leaders

Two new University of Georgia buildings have been named in honor of donors with lasting connections to the Terry College of Business. Construction of Benson Hall and Moore-Rooker Hall is near completion as part of the second and largest phase of UGA's Business Learning Community. The buildings are located on the Athens campus at the corner of Lumpkin and Baxter streets.

"I want to thank these outstanding alumni for their tremendous loyalty and support," said President Jere W. Morehead. "Their generous gifts will enhance the learning environment for business students at the University of Georgia for generations to come."

The two new buildings adjoin Amos Hall, the centerpiece of Phase II's construction, and are next to Correll Hall, which opened in 2015.

"We are honored to name these buildings for such respected leaders in the business community. I am especially grateful for the faith and confidence these alumni have demonstrated in the future of the Terry College of Business," said Dean Benjamin C. Ayers. "We're very excited for completion of the second phase of construction this summer, when all of our faculty and students will be able to work, learn, study and collaborate in business school facilities that are second to none."

The naming of Benson Hall and Moore-Rooker Hall was approved earlier this spring by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. With construction scheduled for completion in May, faculty and staff from all seven of the college's academic departments, as well as other Terry College program staff, will move into the Phase II buildings in June.

A dedication of Amos Hall, Benson Hall and Moore-Rooker Hall is set for Sept. 15, with a groundbreaking ceremony for Phase III construction to follow on the same day.

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UGA entomologist Michael Strand elected to National Academy of Sciences

University of Georgia Regents' Professor Michael R. Strand has received one of the highest honors a scientist can receive-election to the National Academy of Sciences.

Strand, who holds an appointment in the entomology department of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and an affiliated appointment in the genetics department of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, is UGA's eighth member of the National Academies, which include the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Medicine.

"The University of Georgia commends Dr. Strand on this most prestigious recognition," said President Jere W. Morehead. "Dr. Strand's influential research is representative of the high caliber of faculty at UGA and the strength of our growing research enterprise. It is an honor to have him represent this university in an organization of such tremendous national importance."

Strand's primary research interests are in the study of the interactions among insects, parasites and microorganisms. Applications of his work focus on insects that are important to agriculture and that transmit human diseases such as malaria and Zika virus. His work has garnered nearly $28 million in external funding from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. He has published more than 220 research papers, and his findings have been cited at a level that places him in the top 1 percent of entomologists and among the top 5 percent in the fields of biology and biochemistry.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and-with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine-provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

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UGA establishes Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy

The University of Georgia will advance research with implications for economic vitality and national security through its newly created Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy.

The institute is housed in the department of computer science, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, but it will build collaborations with units across campus whose research and scholarship touches on both the technical and non-technical aspects of cybersecurity and privacy.

"Security and privacy vulnerabilities affect every technology we use, from wearable and portable devices such as smartwatches and smartphones to national critical infrastructure, such as the power grid and air traffic control systems," said Kang Li, professor of computer science and inaugural director of the ICSP. "The Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy is committed to helping meet the nation's cybersecurity research and education needs, and we look forward to working with colleagues in academia, industry and government to further this critical priority."

Li noted that UGA houses several faculty members with expertise in network and system security, security for mobile devices and the Internet of Things, and cyber-crime attribution, among many other areas related to cybersecurity. Research by faculty members in the ICSP is currently funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Homeland Security and several corporations. Li added that as more devices connect to the internet and more data about individual users becomes available, the need for enhanced privacy becomes more acute, as well.

"Cybersecurity is one of the grand challenges of our time," said President Jere W. Morehead, "and this new institute will position the University of Georgia to play a leading role in this area of growing importance to our state, nation and world."

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Winners announced for President’s Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program

"I want to congratulate the recipients of these awards on their outstanding research proposals," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "I am excited about the potential for their work to help address a wide range of grand challenges facing our state, nation, and world and to feed the growing momentum surrounding the research enterprise at UGA."

Morehead noted that the budget for the seed grant program was capped originally at $1 million, but the high number of strong proposals led him to increase the budget to approximately $1.4 million in order to fund a greater number of promising research projects.

Proposals were reviewed by a team of UGA faculty and administrators jointly assembled by Vice President for Research David Lee and Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum.

"The review team was pleased to receive so many excellent proposals from across the University," Lee said. "The great interest in this program is a clear sign of the deep commitment among our faculty to collaborate across traditional disciplinary lines to create new knowledge and make discoveries that improve the world around us."

The review team selected winning proposals based on demonstrated potential to address key grand challenges and to generate new external funding in the future. Inclusion of public service and outreach components also was considered, among other criteria. A list of the corresponding principal investigators and topics of the winning proposals is available here.

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UGA receives $1 million NSF grant to extend STEM minority program

The University of Georgia will launch a new program to increase underrepresented minority enrollment in graduate programs in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Bridges to the Doctorate program, which is funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, builds on the university's longstanding Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. In the decade since the Peach State LSAMP was established, minority undergraduate enrollment in STEM fields at UGA has tripled. Through the new grant, students who successfully complete the undergraduate program will have an opportunity to continue their education at UGA and pursue a doctorate.

"The U.S. is at a critical inflection point with respect to its STEM workforce," said Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour. "While the overall demographics of the country are changing rapidly, diversity of the STEM workforce has lagged behind. This disparity has potential to threaten our role as the global leader in STEM research and development. Programs like Bridges to the Doctorate are essential, as they will allow us to retain the best and brightest minds in the pipeline to the STEM workforce."

Through the Bridges to the Doctorate program, 12 LSAMP alumni will receive two years of support for work toward a doctoral degree, with the remaining support coming from the department in which they study. The Bridges to the Doctorate program also offers peer and faculty mentoring, professional development, social support and outreach opportunities. The first cohort will begin their studies this summer.

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UGA alumnus Sonny Perdue confirmed as U.S. secretary of agriculture

With former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's confirmation Monday as the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, he becomes the first University of Georgia alumnus to be named to the White House Cabinet and the first Southerner to head the department in two decades. Perdue will lead the $150 billion agency, which directs the country's farm policy and food and nutrition programs.

At UGA, Perdue attended undergraduate classes — and played on the football team one year as a walk-on — and then earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1971.

"Secretary Perdue is a distinguished alumnus of the University of Georgia, and we are grateful for the tremendous support he has demonstrated for his alma mater over the years," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "We look forward to the important contributions he will make to the nation's vital agricultural industry in this new role."

As governor, Perdue championed UGA projects such as the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries, the Medical Partnership and the new College of Veterinary Medicine hospital. He returned to campus often for official ceremonies, including the February 2004 dedication of the Student Learning Center, and to speak to students, including the May 2005 Commencement. During a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences conference in 2007, Perdue said, "One of Georgia's greatest strengths is our agricultural industry. Our farmers and our foresters. It's our oldest and largest industry."

After his final term as governor, Perdue gave his official papers in March 2011 to the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, part of UGA's special collections libraries.

"Because of his experience and his lifelong commitment to agriculture, we are pleased to have former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as the new secretary of agriculture," said Sam Pardue, dean of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Not only does Secretary Perdue know firsthand the intricacies of providing, protecting and promoting the U.S. food system, he has long been a strong supporter of the land-grant mission in public universities across the country and our role in keeping U.S agriculture growing and leading in sustainable food production."

The USDA is the funding authority for land-grant university research and extension programs in agriculture, family and consumer science, and forestry.

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Two UGA students named 2017 Udall Scholars

The University of Georgia added two new Udall Scholars to its ranks this year as third-year students Shreya Ganeshan and Elizabeth Wilkes were honored for their leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to the environment.

Each year, the Udall Foundation awards about 60 scholarships to college sophomores and juniors for their efforts related to Native American nations or their work in environmental advocacy and policy.

Ganeshan, from Johns Creek, is majoring in economics and statistics and intends to pursue a doctorate in clean energy innovation and deployment. She plans to study how weather-related disasters strain local and national infrastructure and plans to develop financial models for clean energy.

Wilkes, from Atlanta, is majoring in geography and ecology and will pursue a master's degree in either food policy or agricultural and environmental studies. She plans to pursue a career as an advocate for food justice and hopes to transform food systems to promote environmental and social justice.

Both are Honors students and Foundation Fellows. With the addition of Ganeshan and Wilkes, UGA has had 11 Udall Scholars in the past seven years.

"The University of Georgia congratulates our students for this significant accomplishment," said President Jere W. Morehead. "The experiences they have gained through research and internships have prepared them, like other UGA students before them, to compete at the highest levels."