A new fund will provide seed grants to Northwestern University faculty to speed up the commercialization of innovative and high-potential research in the life sciences. The Pat & Shirley Ryan Family Research Acceleration Fund will advance translational research discoveries in both engineering and medicine with the potential to have a meaningful and immediate impact on society.
A gift from the Patrick G. ’59, ’09 H (’97, ’00 P) and Shirley W. Ryan ’61, ’19 H (’97, ’00 P) Family created the Ryan Research Acceleration Fund, which will provide awards to successful basic research that has the potential to ultimately be commercialized and impact the world yet falls into the gap between governmental and private sector funding. The gift is part of a transformational $480 million gift from the Ryan Family to the University that was announced in September 2021. The significant academic portion of the $480 million gift is the largest single commitment ever to Northwestern academics.
“We cannot thank the Ryan Family enough for their generosity toward Northwestern, which is accelerating promising research that can improve people’s lives,” Provost Kathleen Hagerty said.
Northwestern has made efforts to improve health outcomes in the areas of drug discovery, sensing and measurement, rehabilitation, regenerative medicine, surgery and transplantation, and artificial intelligence and computation, among other fields. In the past, some of these efforts have led directly to commercial successes and health and well-being improvement, while other efforts have been built upon by subsequent research or applications that have benefited people around the world.
Northwestern has had a decade-long ascent in annual sponsored research funding from various sources to enable high-impact basic and translational work to thrive across the University. In fiscal year 2022, the funding grew to 3,581 awards totaling $923.8 million. This performance is part of a larger growth trajectory, with the University’s overall research funding increasing nearly 82% since 2012 — furthering the societal impact of Northwestern’s research and elevating the University into the Top 10 of national rankings. Researchers have made important contributions across many areas, including frequent interdisciplinary work, bringing together teams from across the life sciences, engineering, the social sciences, humanities and more.
“The boldest ideas often challenge convention and are not ready for funding by federal agencies,” said Milan Mrksich, vice president for research and the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern. “The Ryan Research Acceleration Fund will provide Northwestern investigators with support to demonstrate the feasibility of their visions and will enable Northwestern to attract even more federal funding for research that solves urgent challenges to create a better world.”
Northwestern faculty and students regularly conduct collaborative research to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. In some cases, an innovative research project needs a little boost to get off the ground. An initial research grant such as a Ryan Research Acceleration Award can help researchers begin their work and produce early results — which, in turn, can secure them major research funding to continue their efforts. These vital seed grants enable scholars to undertake promising, sometimes high-risk research that often leads to breakthroughs and additional funding.
Faculty will be able to make requests for Ryan Research Acceleration Awards by vetting their research proposal with department chairs, deans or center directors for their area before they are submitted to an advisory committee for consideration. The aim is to quickly propel a project to late-stage, government funding or commercialization.
The Ryan Research Acceleration Fund also will enable collaboration across Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, strengthening the ties that exist among the programs and maximizing their research capabilities.
“Northwestern’s nearly $1 billion of annual scientific research has immense potential to change the world, yet too often this potential is left unrealized because of the inherent gap between government and private sector funding,” Patrick Ryan said. “With this new fund, our family is furthering our support of scientific discovery at Northwestern and the potential impact on society. It is critical to provide the University’s world-class researchers with the funds they need to advance innovations in new devices, therapies and diagnostics, for example, that may improve quality of life.”