Research Competitiveness Fund

UNC works closely alongside state leadership to ensure that the North Carolina economy remains viable, strong, and forward-looking. In recognition of this relationship, the NC General Assembly appropriated to UNC a total of $4M between 2007 and 2008 for Research Competitiveness Funds. These funds were invested in 25 research projects in areas identified through UNC Tomorrow as important to the economic competitiveness of the state.  Project areas include biofuels, nanotechnology, wind energy, natural products, water resource management, and improved weather forecasting. The $4M investment has already involved 13 campuses and over 200 individuals internal and external to UNC and has also contributed to the development of proposals totaling over $35M. Three projects are progressing rapidly towards realizing commercializable products that will impact the North Carolina economy.

The Research Competitiveness Fund In Action

Dr. John Cavanagh, colleague Christian Melander, and their research team at North Carolina State University have been awarded grants from the Research Competitiveness Funds in both 2007 and 2008 for their work investigating novel anti-biofilm agents. The compounds they are working on have the potential not only to impact the economic development of North Carolina, but also to contribute meaningfully to society at-large, as Dr. Cavanagh explains:


We're working on developing a class of novel small molecules that will eradicate all pathogenic bacterial biofilms. Biofilms cause ~ 75% of all infections in humans and have significant impacts in the agricultural arena and in the industrial sphere (corroding pipelines, causing drag on ships hulls). In addition we have found that our molecules also re-sensitize multi-drug resistant bacteria to the effects of conventional antibiotics. All those bacteria that are multi-drug resistant; we can overcome that resistance and make all the old antibiotics work again.

The economic and societal impact is enormous. Let's pick agriculture. We believe we can improve crop production (peppers, tomatoes and peaches perhaps) by maybe 50% when we add our compounds to overcome disease.

And how about MRSA? The economic impact of MRSA alone is immense. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections have recently become the focus of intense media attention. MRSA has emerged as a major health problem that is no longer confined to the health care setting.

Reports of MRSA infections occurring in community settings (e.g., day care centers, schools, sports teams) along with reports of deaths in healthy children and adults have heightened public awareness of MRSA. In turn, the lay press has labeled MRSA as the "super bug," which killed more people in the United States in 2005 than AIDS. We can make MRSA sensitive to 16 different antibiotics again.

Without the UNC-GA funds, we would not have been able to prove any of this and would not be so close to developing solutions in the medical and agricultural arenas for some very serious problems.

-John Cavanagh


The Cavanagh Lab

NCSU Feature
Cavangh write-up in News and Observer