UC Davis and the School of Medicine set new records in research funding


The University of California, Davis, set a new record for external research funding, receiving $968 million in awards in the fiscal year 2020-21, up $27 million from the previous record set last year. A major reason for this year’s growth was increased funding related to medicine and public health. 

Professors Diana Farmer and Aijun Wang are collaborating to develop a stem cell treatment for spina bifida. (2019)
Professors Diana Farmer and Aijun Wang are collaborating to develop a stem cell treatment for spina bifida. (2019)

The School of Medicine received the largest increase in funding, up $92 million from the previous year, for a total of $368 million. Funding related to COVID-19 research totaled $42 million for the year. Studies in this area are providing critical insight into testing, vaccines, treatments and social impacts. 

“We are very proud of our researchers at the School of Medicine who rose to the challenge and expanded their groundbreaking work in the face of the pandemic,” said Allison Brashear, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. “All our research teams have shown great agility and collaboration across disciplines, quickly responding to emerging needs to prevent transmission and find treatments and vaccines to combat COVID-19, while also offering patients life-saving clinical trials in areas involving stem cell treatments, cancer and neuroscience, among many others.” 

Brashear noted that the School of Medicine’s clinical trials grew by 63% in the last year to $98 million. 

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences ($153 million), School of Veterinary Medicine ($83 million), College of Engineering ($80 million) and College of Biological Sciences ($58 million) rounded out the top five recipients.

“This achievement reflects the unwavering commitment of our research community and their passion to address important societal needs — during a year when operations were constrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “The societal impact of UC Davis research is far-reaching, spanning geographical boundaries and catering to diverse populations and needs.”

Research funding at UC Davis

The awards enable a broad range of research on topics including advancing human and animal health, protecting our planet and food supply and enabling a more resilient society.

The largest award, $51 million from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, went to Marc Schenker, distinguished professor of Public Health Sciences, to improve public health outcomes for all Californians by providing proper disease surveillance and prevention. 

The federal government remains the largest provider of funding at $514 million, up $37 million from last year. The second leading source came from the state of California at $164 million, up $32 million. Funding from industry made up the third highest source, totaling $116 million, up $31 million. 

UC Davis researchers received a total of 18 NSF CAREER Awards, a record for the university. These prestigious grants are offered to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. 

Inter and Multidisciplinary Research

Collaborative research bringing experts together from different fields of study continues to attract significant funding. These joint efforts often focus on addressing complex, large-scale challenges that require expertise from many perspectives.

“We continue to see how multidisciplinary research provides a distinct advantage in tackling multifaceted issues,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for Research at UC Davis. “As one of the most academically comprehensive universities in the world, UC Davis offers a unique environment to solve these complex issues by bringing together experts from across our campuses.”

Notable multidisciplinary awards include a $16 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for the UC Davis Conte Center to explore how infections in pregnancy lead to disorders in offspring. Principal investigators on this grant are Kimberly McAllister and Cameron Carter.

The Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives division within the Office of Research offers support and resources to help teams advance their programs. Some of the notable interdisciplinary research projects include the work of Sheryl Catz, professor at the UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. Catz received $225,000 from the NIH National Cancer Institute for a project to improve the reach and effectiveness of smoking cessation services targeted to veterans living with HIV.

Diana Farmer, professor and chair in the Department of Surgery at UC Davis Health, also received $9 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Farmer is the principal investigator of the clinical trial, known formally as “The CuRe Trial” – a cellular therapy for in utero repair of myelomeningocele which uses stem cells before birth to treat the most serious form of spina bifida.

This story was originally written by Neelanjana Gautam and published here.

Note: Where funds are awarded up-front to cover several years, the money is counted in the first year the award was received. Incrementally funded awards are counted as authorized in each year. Reports are based on the principal investigator’s home school or college.