Kansas University's top administrators often say the biggest place for growth in research funding is in the life sciences.
As a member of an advisory board for the National Institutes of Health, Joan Hunt has heard the same story from university officials across the country.
"Everybody's saying the same thing," said Hunt, senior associate dean for research and graduate education at the KU school of medicine.
A nationally known reproductive biology researcher, Hunt in May joined the Advisory Council for the National Center for Research Resources, one of 27 institutes and centers affiliated with the NIH.
With a budget of just more than $1 billion, the center is responsible for creating research infrastructure in the United States.
In Kansas, it is responsible for financing three major collaborations between researchers at universities across the state. Hunt has directed one of those collaborations, the Kansas Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network, or K-BRIN.
Saturday, KU had the first Kansas IDeA Biomedical Focus Group Symposium, featuring speakers and presenters from universities in Kansas and a keynote speech by R. Michael Roberts of the University of Missouri. The sessions were intended to foster NIH-competitive research programs in the state.
Barbara Atkinson, dean of the school of medicine, said having Hunt on the Advisory Council, which meets three times a year, would increase KU's chances of getting large NIH grants.
"The people on the council find out what's going on at NIH," Atkinson said. "They hear the inside information, where the science is heading and what the programs are. That information can be brought back to all the (KU) investigators."
Hunt joins the Advisory Board at an interesting time in NIH's history.
It has doubled its budget over the past five years, to more than $23 billion. And the organization has a new road map that emphasizes cancer and neuroscience research in the future -- two areas where Hunt says KU is particularly well-positioned to work.
And she expects proteomics and lipidomics -- the study of proteins and lipids -- to become a major thrust in the next few years, as the study of the human genome has been in recent years. The study of bioterrorist agents also will be important, though Hunt noted that the institutions on the East and West coasts have landed most of the bioterrorism research from NIH to this point.
One of her goals -- and one of the goals of the NIH -- is to attract more funding to states that traditionally have had little NIH funding, Hunt said. The NIH has tagged 23 states, including Kansas, as underachievers and has developed programs to increase research infrastructure in those areas.
Hunt said she's noticed a shift in philosophy at the NIH in recent years. Instead of simply relying on seasoned researchers for their projects, they're expanding who they'll consider for NIH projects.
"Now they're looking forward to what are the next types of technologies needed," she said. "Taking it out to the edge is the name of the game. They're interested in taking more risks, looking into exciting, innovative proposals that could be brought by young investigators."
Hunt said she was chosen for the 18-member council, in part because she's a senior female researcher living in the Midwest -- which is somewhat of a rarity. She has taught at KU since 1984.