2018 Minnesota Futures Awards Announced

The Minnesota Futures Grant Program is offered annually by the Office of the Vice President for Research to promote research that incorporates new, cross-disciplinary ideas. The most recent cycle saw 35 submissions, with two proposals awarded a total of $499,367. These two projects, detailed below, will increase understanding of public health and brain activity.

Effect of the Microbiome Upon Deer Tick Range Expansion in the Upper Midwest

Principal investigator: Jonathan Oliver, Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health

In the last two decades, the range of the deer tick, which is responsible for over 300,000 cases of Lyme disease each year, has expanded dramatically in the Upper Midwest. This increase brings serious health implications, as about 30 percent of adult ticks carry the bacteria for Lyme disease, which causes severe symptoms including fever and fatigue. The disease can lead to long-term issues like arthritis and neurological problems.

To determine the cause of the rapid spread of ticks, Jonathan Oliver and his team seek to understand how environment might build the ticks’ resistance to extremely cold temperatures, which previously contained their ability to range. This research will provide insight into tick microbiomes, disease distribution, and ecology, with crucial implications for human and public health.

Coordinated 3D Marker-Less Pose Estimation and Neural Measurements from Freely Moving Rhesus Macaques

Principal investigator: Hyun Soo Park, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, College of Science and Engineering; Ben Hayden, Department of Neuroscience, Medical School

Researchers have historically studied rhesus macaques, a species of monkey, to understand brain activity, though with a major limitation: the research has required using a large recording rig that requires the subject to stay still to capture measurements. This immobility can introduce factors such as visual and nerve distractions that skew measurements and prevent the researcher from measuring brain activity with precision. Additionally, researchers miss contextual information, as the results exclude natural physical and social interactions.

To address this deficiency, Hyun Soo Park, Ben Hayden, and their team will develop a system that combines wireless brain sensors and cameras, which allow measurement of the monkeys’ neural and physical activity in a free-ranging environment. The team’s research will provide a new method of neural activity measurement with more complete, accurate results.

About Minnesota Futures

Modeled after the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, the Minnesota Futures program supports extraordinary research by nurturing interdisciplinary ideas. The program helps develop projects to a point where they become competitive for external funding.

Since 2008, Minnesota Futures has supported research by faculty who go on to win substantial grants and whose innovations reach the market to potentially improve the lives of millions. The grants, supported by technology commercialization revenue, cover expenses of up to $250,000 over two years.

Learn more about the Minnesota Futures Grant Program and see past award recipients.