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Valuable partnership for researchers

Leadership of FAPESP and the Ohio State University highlight the success of the institutional agreement between them that has already selected 43 collaborative projects. Brito Cruz announces that Aché will join the SGC-Unicamp

After two days of presentations and discussions at the University of Michigan, FAPESP Week continued Thursday (3/31) on the campus of the Ohio State University, nearly 300 km to the south.

One of the largest public universities in the United States, the Ohio State University (OSU) was founded in 1870 and is home to 15 schools occupying 570 buildings. It offers more than 450 undergraduate and graduate courses and welcomes nearly 58,000 students. OSU invests nearly $1 billion in research annually.

In 2013, FAPESP and Ohio State signed a cooperation agreement under whose scope there have been two calls for proposals issued and 43 projects selected, bringing Ohio researchers together with those from the state of São Paulo.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP scientific director, explains that historically, the Foundation has mainly supported Brazilian researchers who travel to the U.S. university and researchers from Ohio State who travel to São Paulo State institutions. “But since 2013, we have greatly expanded our collaboration by issuing calls for proposals,” he said.

“The results of this joint work can be seen in the large number of articles written in recent years by researchers from the state of São Paulo with their colleagues from Ohio State. This number jumped from 40 a year in 2009 to nearly 300 in 2015,” he said.

“The number of article citations has also increased significantly, up from an average of 35, already considered high, demonstrating that these are articles that have achieved visibility in their respective fields,” he said.

Caroline Whitacre, Vice President for Research at Ohio State University, noted that the projects selected in the joint calls for proposals with FAPESP involve work in the most diverse fields of knowledge.

One example Whitacre put forth was a project about Chagas disease, directed by Sergio Schenkman of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and Bradford S. McGwire of Ohio State, selected in the first round of calls for proposals.

The project enhanced collaboration between laboratories led by the two scientists in studies of the mechanisms through which the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi survives and becomes capable of causing infection after passing through the intestines of the triatomine bug.

From the second call for proposals, whose results were announced in December 2015, Whitacre mentioned projects such as, “Metagenomics and proteomic analysis of individuals with generalized aggressive periodontitis and their descendants,” led by Purnima Kumar of Ohio State and Renato Correa Viana Casarin of the University of Campinas (Unicamp).

“According to our agreement, Ohio State and FAPESP spend approximately $1.4 million in funding collaborative projects selected through calls for proposals,” Whitacre said. The agreement is for five years, “but we definitely want to continue our partnership with FAPESP,” she said.

Brito Cruz went on to say that the close relationship with Ohio State extends to the FAPESP Executive Board, whose administrative director, Joaquim José de Camargo Engler, received his PhD in agricultural economics from Ohio State and was presented with the entity’s International Alumni Award in 1994.

Growing collaborations

Brito Cruz gave the opening address at the event, where he talked about science and technology in São Paulo and FAPESP’s role in developing research in the state.

The scientific director said that the state of São Paulo – where 1.7% of the GDP is allocated to research and development, a sum much higher than anywhere else in Brazil – accounts for close to 45% of all science produced in Brazil, according to the number of scientific articles published in international journals.

He went on to talk about some of the research programs sponsored by FAPESP, such as those involving scholarships and grants, and about the Foundation’s system for evaluating requests for funding.

Brito Cruz then talked about the importance to the Foundation of cooperation agreements with universities, companies and organizations in Brazil as well as in dozens of other countries.

“We have a program that involves research centers that bring together universities and industry, for example. One of these centers is the Protein Kinase Chemical Biology Center housed at the University of Campinas (SGC-Unicamp). It is a partnership between the University of Oxford, the University of Toronto and Unicamp,” he said.

“Researchers at the SGC-Unicamp work with colleagues from the other two universities as well as colleagues from several large pharmaceutical companies for the purpose of discovering kinases [groups of enzymes] and processes related to kinases that the industry can then use to study proteins or develop new drugs,” he said.

“And we are happy to welcome Aché as the first Brazilian pharmaceutical company to become part of the SGC-Unicamp. We just finalized the terms of the contract governing how it will participate, and now there is a Brazilian company involved in this tremendous effort in science, research and technology,” he said.

Supported by the FAPESP Research Partnership for Technological Innovation Program (PITE), the center is part of the Structural Genomics Consortium, which brings together researchers from universities, pharmaceutical companies and other organizations.

“Another growing type of collaboration is that in which FAPESP and its university partners offer seed funding to researchers so they can prepare proposals that can be presented to funding agencies in their home countries and in Brazil,” Brito Cruz said.

Whitacre then spoke about the Discovery Themes Initiative, a long-term program at Ohio State that brings university students and professors together with representatives from other institutions.

According to Whitacre, the program is designed to “find lasting solutions to critical societal needs” and is divided into thematic research areas such as Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability, Infectious Disease, Foods for Health, The Humanities and the Arts, Sustainable and Resilient Economy and Data Analytics.

“The Discovery Themes program is a model of interdisciplinarity and transinstitutionality that promotes and enhances broad university collaboration and represents an excellent opportunity to approach major global issues,” Whitacre said.

Heitor Shimizu, in Columbus (USA) | Agência FAPESP