October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

Philanthropy supports pilot projects to take on health challenges such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stress, and chronic pain | VTx | Virginia Tech

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

Virginia Tech alumni Carol and Bill Seale believe investing in high-impact biomedical research now pays dividends for future generations.

Thanks to their generosity, gifts made to Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC during Virginia Tech’s Giving Day, which runs for 24 hours starting at noon Feb. 15, will unlock up to $20,000 to the Seale Innovation Fund, enabling Giving Day donors to double the impact of their investment in research to improve human health.

The Seale Innovation Fund helps crossdisciplinary research teams pursue bold ideas in science, gathering preliminary data needed to apply for larger, multiyear research grants. The investment has helped jump-start innovative high-risk, high-reward pilot concepts by supporting the early data and results needed to support larger projects. “We’ve benefitted from past scientific discoveries and their contributions to modern medicine,” Bill Seale said. “Now we want to pay it forward.”

In 2023, seven new research teams led by Fralin Biomedical Research Institute investigators were selected to benefit from the Seales’ gift – but additional support during Giving Day will help to advance their innovative work even further. Gifts made to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute leading up to and during Virginia Tech Giving Day directly support future interdisciplinary research projects like these:

  • Scott Johnstone will design and test novel nanobodies to improve patient outcomes after heart surgery.
  • Samy Lamouille will work toward improved treatment options and survival rates for glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.
  • Thomas Maynard will investigate neural stem cell dysregulation in early brain development to better understand autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, in collaboration with Anthony-Samuel LaMantia.
  • Steve Poelzing will address rhythmic electrical activity in cells to develop new therapies to treat conditions such as epilepsy, sudden cardiac death, intestinal pseudo-obstruction, and premature birth.
  • Sora Shin will work to better understand stress-induced altered sensitivity to pain by exploring the impact of specific neurons on inflammation and chronic pain.
  • Junco Warren will seek to develop novel therapies to treat heart failure in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Jia-Ray Yu will work on diffuse midline glioma, the most aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer, to seek potential targets for combination therapies to treat the disease.

“Every day, our scientists at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute are carrying out leading-edge research. To do that work, they compete for high-level grants and contracts to fuel new projects,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “But groundbreaking work begins in the lab, with careful observation, an innovative idea, and initial investment of time and experimentation to support the funding request and advance the research. The Seale Innovation Fund is an important catalyst for supporting innovative research in early stages and making new health discoveries. We are very grateful for the Seales’ generous investment in science in the service of health.”

In its first year that investment, bolstered by individual donors, supported the following:

  • Alexandra DiFeliceantonio investigated the role of ultraprocessed foods in obesity and metabolism.
  • Robert Gourdie’s cancer research focused on reducing the side effects of radiation therapy.
  • Brittany Howell delved into human milk’s role in white matter in the developing brain.
  • To address the opioid epidemic, innovation funds helped Wynn Legon investigate focused ultrasound as an alternative, non-addictive treatment for chronic pain.
  • Read Montague leveraged innovation funds to study next-generation neurotransmitter prediction systems, including groundbreaking measurements of dopamine in a conscious human subject.
  • Jenny Munson put her lab to work to improve brain cancer drug delivery and treatment.
  • James Smyth investigated COVID-19’s impact on cardiovascular health.


Full story: Philanthropy supports pilot projects to take on health challenges such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stress, and chronic pain | VTx | Virginia Tech


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