Cibuco River flooding over in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. Photo: iStock/alejandrophotography
A new resource at the University of Minnesota aims to put U researchers and their partners at the forefront of global innovation, impact, and change.
The Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative (SPARC) is designed to help multidisciplinary teams of faculty, staff, and students from across the University system submit and execute large-scale, complex grant proposals—particularly those offered by nontraditional funding agencies that require external partners. The research service and innovation hub engages researchers and practitioners at the U, along with partners at the national and global scale, to establish new, wide-reaching programs that catalyze collaboration, spark discovery, and create practical solutions to major societal challenges.
SPARC is led by College of Veterinary Medicine faculty Amy Kircher, DrPH, director of the Food Protection and Defense Institute ($85 million) and Katey Pelican, DVM, Ph.D., principal investigator for the $63 million USAID One Health Workforce project. The research hub is supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance.
Chris Cramer, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research, said SPARC will play an important role in ensuring U research continues to benefit society at the state, national, and international scales.
“In order to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, we need to create a culture of interdisciplinary research, innovation, and implementation,” Cramer said. “SPARC provides a new infrastructure to help the University further fulfill its land-grant mission by applying research-based solutions to address pressing societal problems.”
Among SPARC’s services for U faculty and staff are providing new sources of research support, new opportunities to work across disciplines, and new ways to connect with organizations outside of the U. For grant administrators, the hub can be a valuable resource in the management, implementation, and administrative oversight of large and complex grant proposals.
The development of SPARC was informed by over a decade of discussion and work by U leaders and faculty around the idea of such a resource, Kircher said.
“We are thrilled to have launched and are looking forward to engaging the whole U of M system,” she said. “SPARC is a catalyst for team science and deployable solutions. We believe it’s enhancing a culture of interdisciplinary research, innovation, and translation.”
Monitoring Public Health in Puerto Rico
One of the first projects to be supported by SPARC aims to improve early detection and treatment of potentially fatal bacterial diseases in Puerto Rico.
Kircher and Claudia Muñoz-Zanzi, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, are leading the project, which focuses on developing and implementing a system for outlining areas at risk for exposure to leptospirosis and melioidosis—diseases that spread from animals to humans, especially in the presence of contaminated water. Cases of these diseases grew in Puerto Rico following the damage caused by 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Using active surveillance methods in local hospitals and clinics, Kircher and Muñoz-Zanzi will investigate areas of the territory affected by the hurricane and create a protocol for monitoring these diseases in the wake of the disaster. They will also define which areas are most susceptible for these diseases and the main local risk factors that contribute to their spread, which will help guide prevention efforts going forward.
Through the project, the team also hopes to build and improve laboratory capacity and awareness for diagnosing leptospirosis and melioidosis elsewhere in the US and globally.