What is an AUFSI Working Group, and why should I care?

There are plenty of reasons why your faculty should be involved in AUFSI Working Groups. Think cross-fertilization of ideas. Think intellectual excitement. And think interdisciplinary grant dollars.

The Obesity Working Group is a good example. In the beginning, faculty members from several different disciplines got together with Kathe Briggs, director of health promotion and disease management for the East Alabama Medical Center Nutrition and Diabetes Center and a member of Alabama’s Obesity Task Force. They were also joined by Lekan Ayanwale, director of Tuskegee University’s Nutrition, Fitness and Childhood Obesity program.

The original idea was to prepare a proposal for a specific NIH funding opportunity. It soon became evident, however, that there was a real, pressing need to learn more about the roots of obesity in Alabama, which is consistently among the top five states in the country for numbers of obese residents and for obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes.

The group decided to pursue the NIH funding opportunity that provided the original impetus for meeting, but realized this could provide seed data for other funding opportunities. They committed to meet regularly, with the understanding that not every member would be involved in every proposal.

Working Group members also discovered they enjoyed learning about colleagues’ research in related fields. Currently, faculty members from kinesiology, nursing, pharmacy care systems, veterinary medicine, nutrition, geography, and education are meeting regularly to discuss opportunities for interdisciplinary research and to develop proposals. They recently decided to make formal presentations of their work at upcoming meetings.

Another example is the Beef Working Group, which first met to prepare a proposal seeking USDA funding. Stuart Price, an associate professor of pathology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with a group from veterinary medicine, animal science, and poultry science to craft a proposal called “Cattle as an Emerging Source of Salmonella enteritidis Human Infections.”

During the summer of 2012, this type of Salmonella — which is strongly associated with contaminated eggs — caused a foodborne outbreak that was traced to contaminated ground beef. The Working Group’s hypothesis: By exploiting proximity in mixed-species food animal production sites, S. enteritidis moves into cattle, where it invades lymph nodes, resulting in a new source of carcass contamination at slaughter.

The proposal received very favorable reviews but was not funded, with reviewers showing a great deal of interest in the idea but citing the lack of preliminary data. That sent Working Group members back to the drawing board, and AUFSI is helping them find the funding to gather the necessary seed data before re-submitting the proposal.

AUFSI’s role is to not only introduce faculty to each other, but to research funding opportunities, provide help with grant writing and administration, and develop integrated interdisciplinary solutions to research challenges. New groups form as opportunities arise, and we welcome Advisory Council input on activities.