The Richmond-based Red Gates Foundation has committed $50 million to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC to accelerate health sciences research at Virginia Tech. The gift is among the largest ever made to the university.
“The Red Gates Foundation is committed to funding innovative research that has the potential to make a real difference in the world,” said Jeff Galanti, the foundation’s executive director. “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.”
The Red Gates Foundation was created by the estate of Hunter Goodwin in 2020. The foundation’s overarching mission is to usher in transformative change by supporting innovative programs and community-driven initiatives that boldly tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges.
“At the heart of the Red Gates Foundation’s philosophy is a recognition that genuine progress requires more than just financial resources; it demands a commitment to innovative thinking, collaborative partnerships, and a profound understanding of the unique needs of those it seeks to help,” the organization said in a statement.
“We are grateful for this extraordinary gift from the Red Gates Foundation supporting Virginia Tech’s commitment to health and biomedical sciences,” said university President Tim Sands. “As we work to significantly increase the impact of our biomedical research, this gift will accelerate our timeline and help recruit world-leading researchers to join us in fighting diseases that impact millions of people worldwide.”
Added Sands,“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.”
Friedlander, who is also Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and who has led the development of the partnership with the Red Gates Foundation, said, “We are incredibly grateful to the Red Gates Foundation and are excited to now be able to do more to address two of the major categories of health challenges that affect millions of people worldwide — cancer and brain disorders. This transformational gift will create new opportunities for our already highly successful neuroscience research programs at the institute and across the entire Virginia Tech campus. It will also serve as a major foundational launch pad for growing our cancer research programs and accelerating the transition of the Virginia Tech-wide Cancer Research Alliance to a more potent and integrated alliance while also building stronger bridges with our clinical partners at Carilion Clinic and Children’s National Hospital.”
A majority of the gift will go toward recruiting 14 researchers focused largely on cancer, but also on neuroengineering and computational neuroscience. A third of the gift will support six major research projects, directed toward cancer and brain disorders in adults and children. Each of the six projects will be led by a senior Fralin Biomedical Research Institute faculty member based in Roanoke.
Expanding the international scope of the university’s research enterprise and becoming a top 100 global university is a principal objective of Virginia Tech this decade. The Red Gates Foundation gift, which equals the two largest ever made to the university, will help a great deal by allowing the university’s premier health sciences research institute to increase by roughly one-third the number of faculty-led research teams.
The six immediate projects led by senior researchers at the institute that will be made possible by the Red Gates Foundation gift are the following:
- 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
- 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
“These six projects will each provide important new scientific insights and take critical steps to advance those insights to evaluation of effective diagnostics, preventatives, and treatments for cancer and brain disorders,” said Friedlander. “This gift from the Red Gates Foundation makes possible a carefully designed plan to enhance our cancer research and our research enterprise overall, building on our strengths in neuroscience, our relationships with researchers across several Virginia Tech colleges, and our partnerships with Children’s National Hospital and Carilion Clinic.”
In 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Carilion Clinic joined together to announce an advanced biomedical research institute and medical school in Roanoke. Fueled by investment by the commonwealth, the university, and Carilion and bolstered by philanthropy, the institute has helped Virginia Tech dramatically expand its health sciences research over the past decade.
Heywood Fralin, a Roanoke businessman and health care executive who made the major gift that named the research institute in 2018, said ongoing investment in biomedical research is a wellspring to enrich Virginia’s economy.
“All at the research institute thank the folks at the Red Gates Foundation for their support and confidence in the research occurring here in Roanoke,” Fralin said. “This investment will allow Mike Friedlander and his team to hire more world-class research teams at a faster pace. This quality research will contribute to the greater good and advance public health around the world.
Added Fralin, “It’s the sort of thing that gets me up every morning. 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. Thanks, again, to the Red Gates Foundation for investing in this game-changing research.”
New hires enabled by the gift will include 11 tenured or tenure-track faculty. The gift will also support the hiring of three non-tenure-track research faculty.
The gift enhances the university’s emerging partnership with Children’s National Hospital, consistently rated one of the top five children’s hospitals in the U.S., by facilitating the hiring of several additional research teams located at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington, D.C., in addition to cancer research faculty hired through additional university support to work in Virginia Tech labs at that campus.