Tufts officially launches Institute for Innovation

University President Anthony Monaco and Tufts Institute for Innovation Founding Director David Walt officially launched the initiative on Aug. 28. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts Institute for Innovation (TII), an initiative designed to facilitate research innovation at Tufts, was officially launched following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 28.

Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler said that TII was developed to address global problems with the development of novel strategies, technologies and scalable models. She added that TII was an important supplement to the T10 Strategic Plan that the university adopted in 2013 because it affirms Tufts’ commitment to the importance of social good and public services. 

“The goal is to tightly link outcomes in the laboratory to implementation strategies,” Thurler told the Daily in an email.

TII will assemble research project teams from the university’s three campuses in Medford/Somerville, Boston and Grafton and will provide opportunities for students to contribute, according to the Office of the Provost website. These research projects will facilitate the translation and commercialization of research into products and therapies for the public good.

Through specific funding decisions, TII will fund research proposals that demonstrate a holistic approach, cutting edge research and a clear focus of the impact of the project, according to Thurler.

TII Founding Director David Walt, a chemistry professor, explained that the cross-disciplinary and cross-university collaboration of TII is important to provide broader context to research involving real world problems — ones that cannot be solved in the confines of one discipline.

“It is essential that we draw on the resources of the entire university — expertise, facilities, students, faculty and staff to ensure that we bring the best minds to the table to solve the important problems we are pursuing,” Walt told the Daily in an email.

TII will conduct research that will involve all of the university campuses, but will be based initially out of the renovated space in the Biomedical Research and Public Health Building on the Tufts Health Sciences campus in Boston, Thurler explained. Projects for TII will receive seed funding and the incubator laboratory space for one year and then will be expected to seek external funding.

“This location will make it easy for TII research teams to tap into the resources of the adjacent Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, the new Arnold 8 Biosafety Laboratory and Boston’s world-class hospitals and culture of innovation and entrepreneurism,” Thurler said.

Since research grant applications today usually require preliminary results from cross-disciplinary teams, TII will make Tufts projects more competitive, according to Thurler.

Fourteen research proposals from across Tufts’ campuses were submitted after a request was put out in early January 2014, Thurler said. The proposals were first reviewed by the TII Executive Committee, which is made up of faculty members, Walt and Vice Provost for Research Diane Souvaine. External reviewers specializing in relevant fields then reviewed the proposals and chose four initial projects to fund. 

These projects, centering on infectious diseases and global health, each had specific goals such as researching waterborne diseases in Ghana and India, and developing nearly instantaneous diagnostic tests for tuberculosis.

The TII initiative has been in development for over a year under the supervision of Walt, who sought to expand accessibility of scientific research through his Howard Hughes Medical Institute Project, and Deputy Director Lauren Lincoln, who was a leader on the Human Genome Project. University President Anthony Monaco and Provost David Harris also provided guidance over the project, according to Thurler.

“My goal is to convey the importance, value and the personal satisfaction that comes with seeing something taken all the way to the target community where it can make an impact,” Walt explained. “I’d like Tufts to be a leader in creating real world value for the great work we are collectively pursuing.”

Monaco explained that with his experience directing the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, he saw the convergence of different perspectives of multiple disciplines to work on diseases with complex causes and needs for diagnosis and therapy.

“The TII is using a similar approach but is going one step further in trying to bring teams together to consider not only the scientific challenges but also the implementation and policy obstacles that must be overcome in order for the research to have impact in a real world setting,” Monaco told the Daily in an email.

According to Monaco, TII will initially focus on a single theme of microbes, but will consider other themes later on with more external funding.

Expanding funding for the initiative will be a priority for Tufts’ next capital campaign, according to Thurler.