sealPurdue Letter from the President

November, 2000

At a news conference on Nov. 20, Purdue and Indiana universities made a joint announcement that they will begin human trials at the I.U. Medical Center on a new treatment for spinal cord injuries.

The treatment, developed under the leadership of Dr. Richard Borgens at Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine, has been used successfully on dogs. In some cases, paralysis resulting from spinal injury has been reversed. Dr. Borgens' technique applies weak electrical fields to the area of the injury in recently injured animals, and this brings about regeneration of nerve fibers.

If the human trials, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, produce similar results, this will be an very exciting development in the treatment of what is among the most debilitating of injuries.

At the Nov. 20 news conference it also was announced that Mari Hulman George, chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is contributing $2.7 million to Purdue and I.U. The gift is being used to establish endowed professorships at both universities: a named professorship in the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine's Institute for Applied Neurology and a named chair in the I.U. School of Medicine's Division of Neurosurgery.

Past funding of the research has come from a variety of sources, including an appropriation approved by the Indiana General Assembly in 1999. That initiative placed Indiana among only a handful of states that fund paralysis research.

I mention this development in today's letter, because it is a dramatic example of the exciting potential of university research. In Purdue and I.U. the state of Indiana has two of America's leading research institutions. Each by itself is a tremendous educational, cultural and economic resource, When they are able to work together, they become even more powerful agents for positive change.

Because of their research capacity, Purdue and I.U. play a unique role in the state. Purdue attracts more than $160 million in funding annually from outside the university for its research and other sponsored programs. Most of this money comes from outside the state – primarily the federal government. However, through the creation of the 21st Century Fund, Indiana has recognized the relationship between university research and economic development. This is a very promising step.

Purdue's research funding – all of which is earned in a highly competitive marketplace – is putting up some remarkable numbers in the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Through October – one-third of the way through the fiscal year – the university has been awarded almost $89 million in funding. This is an increase of more than $21 million over the same period last year.

University-based research is not always linked directly to economic outcomes. It's very important that we support the exploration of the frontiers of knowledge, regardless of whether the work will produce financial returns. However, it is not difficult to find examples of the economic benefits of research.

Here are some Purdue examples:

• Research led by Virginia Ferris in the School of Agriculture has produced a soybean plant that is resistant to the soybean cyst nematode, the most destructive pest affecting this important crop. The new strain, which will be on the market next year, will save Indiana farmers $30-50 million a year. Nationally the impact will be more than $250 million.

• Researchers in Purdue's Department of Biomedical Engineering have developed a material that is made from the collagen present in pig intestines. When applied to damaged human tissue – for example wounds or burns – it promotes remarkable healing. The material also has been used to repair damaged ligaments with excellent results. Cook Biotech, an Evansville-based company has brought the material onto the commercial market. It has enormous economic, as well as medical, potential.

• Michael Rossmann, a distinguished professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is a world leader in the effort to understand the structure of viruses. His work with the viruses that cause the common cold has led to the development of effective medications and eventually may greatly reduce the incidence of this widespread illness.

Like the spinal injury treatment, these three examples are all practical results that came from basic research in Purdue laboratories. The potential for these kind of results is always there as long as we keep investing in the development of new knowledge. It's one of the most important things our universities do.

Martin C. Jischke