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December’s Research Matters focused on how Carolina’s research programs have persevered during the pandemic. Several accomplishments were highlighted that related to Initiative 4: Discover of the university’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. None of these accomplishments would have been achieved without the incredible effort of staff to ensure that our research operations continued.

On the heels of the significant disruptions of 2020, followed by unique challenges of 2021, and now a looming threat of yet another Sars-CoV-2 variant at the start of 2022, our research support offices have remained operational through it all. We know that the fluid nature of the pandemic is personally taxing, and we are so appreciative that our workforce has remained dedicated through all these trials.

Although certainly not an exhaustive list, the examples highlighted below capture the essence of the incredible work our research support offices accomplished this past year:

  • The Office of Clinical Trials (OCT) and the Office of Research Information Systems launched the OnCore clinical trials management system. They began expanding the systems to units beyond Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. OCT also launched the new Billing Coverage Analysis
  • The OVCR Research Administration Service Center expanded to serve more units. The Office of Sponsored Research launched its updated Subrecipient Initiation Portal and continued to expand the Carolina Rapids training program for the campus. OSR also negotiated a rate extension for our F&A return, keeping it at the critical 55.5% level.
  • The Office of Animal Care and Use and the Division of Comparative Medicine successfully achieved reaccreditation from AAALAC and a flawless inspection by the USDA. This accomplishment is unique for institutions across the country as complex as Carolina and was achieved by hard work and concern for the care of animals.
  • The Office of Human Research Ethics successfully supported the campus COVID-19 research efforts, where they saw a 33% increase in the number of IRB submissions during 2021.
  • The Office of Research Development (ORD) celebrated the success of the Creativity Hubs program, which continued its supports of innovative new research such as:
    • chemical and molecular designs that desalinate and capture heavy metals from water;
    • data collection and integration of extreme storms and flooding to aid in predicting impacts of future storms on coastal habitats and their inhabitants;
    • discovery and development of antiviral therapeutics using new methods targeting a person’s cellular machinery; and
    • use of AI technology to identify novel matter for solar fuels and develop robotics to automate chemical synthesis and characterization.
  • ORD also supported large grant proposals through team building, project management, and grant writing support. They led a substantial increase in the total number of limited submissions from federal and private sponsors and supported several key collaborative efforts in arts and humanities.
  • The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs provided career counseling for postdoctoral fellows affiliated with over 50 departments. The Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity successfully recruits talented, diverse researchers to the Carolina faculty. For the 2021 cohort, scholars have accepted faculty positions at Carolina in history, health behavior, and in the schools of Nursing and Government.
  • The OVCR managed the Pinnacle Hill collaboration with Deerfield to develop therapeutics for commercial interests. Another avenue for corporate sponsorship opportunities, the Advance Therapeutics Initiative (AdvanTx) is advancing the discovery and development of therapeutics at UNC.
  • The Office of Partnerships and Research Impact worked with North Carolina’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, facilitating new pathways for centers and institutes to engage with state agencies and provide those agencies with expertise to better serve the people of the state.
  • The Office of Research Communications coalesced stories, messaging, and branding for the OVCR around the phrase” “Research Perseveres,” highlighting perseverance at the bench, in the field, in the classroom, and in the offices that support research infrastructure. They also led this year’s University Research Week, which was the largest and most successful iteration of that event yet, with over 66 events and nearly 3,000 participants. Perseverance was also highlighted in this year’s Endeavors The magazine is an incredible showcase of tenacity and persistence of researchers at all stages and across many different disciplines.

Research at Carolina is at the most successful place it has ever been. While there is much to celebrate on that front, we know that this growth requires great effort from UNC’s research support offices. The work of those that support the research mission has not gone unnoticed. Their contributions are meaningful, essential, and truly matter to the university, the state, and citizens of North Carolina.

As we look to the new year, the take-away message is one of optimism. We have a new state budget for the first time in three years. We have had another record-breaking year for research awards, which subsequently puts us on track for continued success. Although we do face challenges, overall, the university research support infrastructure is outstanding. We will mitigate challenges as quickly as possible, and we will continue to look for ways to provide the resources needed to equip these offices.

2022 will be a better year, and I look forward to working alongside our staff as we continue to provide our world-class researchers world-class support.

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