BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A research center at Virginia Tech College is expanding to accelerate health sciences research.

The college announced that it was awarded $50 million from the Richmond-based Red Gates Foundation to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. This is the second-largest donation ever made to the university.

“The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is a world-renowned research institution that pushes the boundaries of what is possible. We are confident that their nimble approach to research, which is focused on the intersections of science, medicine, engineering, and data analytics, will help them make significant breakthroughs that benefit humanity in the years to come,” said Jeff Galanti, the foundation’s executive director.

The foundation was created in 2020 by the estate of Hunter Goodwin and its mission is to help transformative change by supporting innovative programs and community-driven initiatives that address insurmountable challenges.

Virginia Tech says a majority of the money will go toward recruiting 14 researchers focused mainly on cancer, euroengineering, and computational neuroscience. A third of the funds will support the six following major research projects that are directed toward cancer and brain disorders in adults and children:

  • A new therapeutic approach to reducing side effects of radiation treatment in cancer patients in a project led by Robert Gourdie
  • A new technique that targets and destroys invasive brain cancer cells in a project led by Jennifer Munson
  • A remotely delivered smartphone app that helps the brain consider future events  to reduce smoking and incidence of lung cancer among veterans in a project led by Warren Bickel

Using state-of-the-art instrumentation, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute scientists
and engineers can visualize tissues or processes
with unprecedented high resolution. (Photo courtesy: Virginia Tech)

  • A remotely delivered smartphone app that helps the brain consider future events  to reduce smoking and incidence of lung cancer among veterans in a project led by Warren Bickel
  • Combination therapies and delivery routes that target mitochondrial dysfunction in nerve cells to slow and prevent Parkinson’s disease progression in work led by Anthony-Samuel LaMantia with collaborator Read Montague
  • New machine learning applications to rapidly measure neurochemicals in the brain for precision diagnosis and tracking of effective therapeutics to treat epilepsy in children in work led by Montague
  • Development of a compound that mimics exercise for promoting health and preventing and treating non-communicable diseases including cancer in work led by Zhen Yan with collaborator Webster Santos

Each project will be led by a senior Fralin Biomedical Research Institute faculty member based in Star City. Tech said one goal with the money is to expand the international scope of the university’s research enterprise and become a top 100 global research university of the decade.

“It is a powerful endorsement of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s rapid rise as one of the nation’s most innovative and productive enterprises in translational brain and heart research, and its emerging focus on similar innovation in cancer research under the leadership of founding Executive Director Michael Friedlander,” said university President Tim Sands.

In 2007, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, and the Commonwealth of Virginia joined to announce an advanced biomedical research institute and medical school in Roanoke. Over the last decade, Virginia Tech has significantly, expanded its health sciences research.

“… All the research that the colleagues here are doing is exciting and of great quality that leads to the betterment of humankind. Additionally, this research will continue to greatly enhance economic development in this region and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Heywood Fralin, a Roanoke businessman and healthcare executive.