Lobbyists from UB are working to secure millions of dollars in funding from both the New York State and federal governments as part of the university's efforts to place Buffalo at the forefront of economic activity in biomedical research.
Faculty, administrators and employees in the university's Office of Government Affairs are working as a team to secure finances for the new Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics, said Bruce Holm, UB senior vice provost and chief administrator for the center.
The Office of Government Affairs has representatives in both Albany and Washington, and continues to utilize SUNY's powerful Washington lobbying firm to leverage the university for additional government funding.
"Our ultimate mission is to bring back funding for the university," said Janet Penksa, former secretary to the New York State Assembly's Ways and Means Committee, and currently UB's associate vice president for government affairs. "You bring a congressional member a good project, one that has lots of growth potential, preferably economic development potential."
The administration believes bioinformatics fulfills both those criteria.
"Many congressional members have been very interested because it's not only good science, but bioinformatics is estimated to be one of the fastest growing economic fields over the next century," Penska continued.
Penska said the Office of Government Affairs is staffed with individuals experienced in state and national power politics. Rebecca Malchow, the office's director of state relations in Albany, was a former budget analyst for the state senate's finance committee. Mike Pietkiewichz, the office's director of federal relations in Washington, has access to key players and decision-makers in the capitol.
Buffalo is especially well poised to take advantage of the biomedical boom thanks to the area's three leading and nationally recognized research institutions. Nobel laureate Herb Hauptman, who founded the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Institution, specialized in crystallography, one of the building blocks of bioinformatics. The Roswell Park Cancer Institute ranks as one of the nation's top 20 cancer centers and UB is home to one of the country's top-10 supercomputers.
"What's important to bioinformatics is that you have the unique computing capability as well as the biomedical research, and UB is one of the few institutions to pair the two," said Penksa.
Additionally, the university has seen unexpected community support from a variety of local partnerships as well as government officials. Both the Buffalo-Niagara partnership and local government officials are in close contact with the university and consider the center a top priority.
"Buffalo seems to be known for its factions," said Penksa. "This is a unique situation when you have everybody rallying around a good project."
As part of the ongoing efforts to secure additional state funding, the university sponsored "UB Day" at the state legislature in Albany last week. Lobbyists from the corporate sector, business leaders, researchers, alumni and students traveled to the state capital to show off the university to legislative leaders, delegation members and members of the higher education committee in both houses of the legislature.
"One of the things we did at 'UB Day' was have a very visible exhibition and also lobbying teams who were going to the members, so we kind of had a two-prong approach," said Ryan McPherson, a third-year law student and government relations analyst who attended the event.
The "visible exhibition" included high-tech virtual reality displays from the Center for Computational Research, "battle bots" and a performance from the Buffalo Chips, UB's male a cappella musical group.
The university plans to hold a similar event in Washington sometime in mid-April, but will be more discriminative in deciding groups from UB attend.
"Washington we do more selective," said Penksa. "It's just a different environment. Albany loves the mass of people and all the science. Washington is a bit more of a competitive town."
The event will be one of many trips to the Capitol this semester by UB leaders as part of their efforts to educate people about the field of bioinformatics, the economic growth potential of biomedical sciences and how Buffalo is especially suited to develop such technology, according to Penksa.
Next week, Penska, Holm and Russ Miller, director of the Center for Computational Research, are traveling to the nation's capitol to meet with key personnel on the appropriations committee and science committee and speak with representatives about the best way to lobby for the bioinformatics center.
The Bush administration recently proposed nearly $26 billion in research to combat bioterrorism for the 2003 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 3. For the past several years, UB has performed substantial bioterrorism research and seeks to capitalize on the money available.
"Funding for bioinformatics is not only directed toward chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but is an important tool for developing vaccines and treatments for bioterrorist agents such as anthrax or smallpox," stated Jaylan Turkkan, UB vice president for research, in an e-mail.
Turkkan said UB is creating a "lean and mean" task force to track federal funding opportunities from the National Institute of Health and other agencies to insure UB researchers are contributing to "this important national need."
"Our research teams in vaccine development are not only nationally and internationally recognized, but are poised to take advantage of these new funding opportunities," Turkkan continued.