UofL funds new Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research

Proposals to build or enhance excellence in the areas of social justice, big data, and metagenomics will receive up to $2.25 million in funding over the next three years as part of the University of the 21st Century Initiative.


The proposals, which include representatives from nearly every school and college at UofL, were selected from 15 submissions after an intense, months-long process that included internal and external review. 

As part of the 21st Century University Initiative, UofL was seeking to enhance up to three programs that show potential to address critical or emerging issues of national significance and that will help define the university as a national leader in these fields. Successful proposals also had to be interdisciplinary, encouraging participation from a variety of units across campus; be innovative and socially significant; provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research; and include financial support from the departments in which the proposal originated.

“We were pleased with the quality and quantity of proposals submitted from across the Belknap and Health Sciences campuses,” Acting President Neville Pinto said. “These three proposals clearly stood out as emerging areas in which we can play a lead role on a national level. Also important, faculty and students from every corner of the university will have the opportunity to play a role in their success.”

Each proposal will receive up to $250,000 per year for up to three years. Principal investigators will submit annual reports on the programs, which will be used to assess their development and determine future funding. The full reports are available on the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies web site.

The programs selected for this round of funding are:

Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research

Many UofL departments and centers already conduct research and activities in social justice, diversity and equity. This program will promote transdisciplinary research to complement current projects. It also will provide a social justice hub to bring faculty, students and the community together on issues of social and racial justice.

Initial research focus areas will include community justice, environmental justice and emerging social justice issues. A fourth project area will focus on social justice issues in West Louisville, ensuring collaboration between the consortium and the Office of Community Engagement’s Signature Partnership. More than 45 faculty and 31 offices, units, centers, institutes and departments will participate in the initiative.

Co-Principal Investigators are Cate Fosl, associate professor, women and gender studies, and director, Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Enid Trucios-Haynes, professor in the Brandeis School of Law and director, Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice.

Big Data Analysis in Medicine

Co-principal investigators Rob Keynton and Ayman El Baz of the Department of Bioengineering will lead a team in developing new models and learning approaches to analyze and integrate multiple data types to aid clinicians in early diagnosis and identification of high-risk patients for human diseases and disorders. The team will include a number of departments, faculty and students from the J.B. Speed School of Engineering and the School of Medicine.

Currently, a vast amount of data, ranging from medical images and pathology reports to qualitative clinical data produced through observations by physicians and other medical professionals, exists. The team proposes developing a platform that integrates information from a specific case with global data to help determine better diagnoses or treatment options for the patient.

While the proposed approach should apply to any clinical problem, the team will focus first on three areas in which UofL collaborations already exist: autism, heart failure and retinal disease.

Program in Metagenomics and Health

Recent research has established a link between indigenous microbiota, or micro-organisms such as bacteria that live on and in the human body, and health. The investigators hypothesize that these microbiota and their impact on the body are affected by factors such as a patient’s genetic profile, environment and lifestyle. The proposal supports studying the relationship between these social determinants, microbiota and the prevalence of specific diseases.

By combining the efforts of various UofL clinics and studies, the investigators plan to generate large data sets that may help determine a relationship between specific environmental factors, microbial profiles and disease.

The project will draw on research and clinical work from the Kent School, School of Medicine, James Graham Brown Cancer Center, School of Dentistry, School of Public Health and Information Sciences and others.

It will be led by co-principal investigators Nejat Egilmez, microbiology; Richard Lamont, oral immunology and infectious diseases; and Riaan Van Zyl, Kent School of Social work.

Previously funded programs

Three other programs have been funded as part of the 21st Century University Initiative. Projects in cancer, restorative medicine, and advanced manufacturing and sustainability were selected for investment in 2014. Updates on all six programs will appear periodically in UofL News.

Source: Three proposals selected for funding, enhancement through 21st Century Initiative (UofL News, Oct. 11, 2016)