Office of Research

GRA Eminent Scholars

GRA Eminent Scholar Gerald Hart works in lab. Photo cut out of shape of State of Georgia

Great Commitments, Great Faculty

Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars are acknowledged leaders in areas of science that are strategically important to the state of Georgia and its research universities. They hold endowed chairs made possible by the Georgia Research Alliance, a unique nonprofit that grows Georgia’s economy by expanding university research and entrepreneurship. GRA’s investment and involvement generate more discoveries, more startup companies and more high-value jobs in Georgia. The public-private alliance invests State of Georgia funds, and its operations are supported by corporations, individuals and foundations.

Working with their colleagues across the university, GRA Eminent Scholars have helped the University of Georgia rise 34% in new award funding from fiscal year 2014 to 2018.

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Georgia Research Alliance
Eminent Scholars at
the University of Georgia

$222.5 million graphic

New Award Funding
from GRA Scholars
FY 2014–18

Jeffrey Bennetzen
Molecular Biology and Functional Genomics

David Crich
Drug Design

Stephen Dalton
Molecular Cell Biology

Roberto Docampo
Emerging Diseases and Cellular Biology

Arthur Edison
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy

Robert Haltiwanger
Biomedical Glycoscience

Gerald Hart
Drug Discovery

Dennis Kyle
Antiparisitic Drug Discovery

Robert Maier
Microbial Physiology

Vasu Nair
Drug Discovery, Emeritus

Karen Norris
Immunology and Translational Biomedicine

James Prestegard
Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Emeritus

Ted Ross
Infectious Diseases

Steven Stice
Regenerative Medicine

Ralph Tripp
Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies

Chung-Jui “C.J.” Tsai
Forest Biotechnology

Bi-Cheng Wang
Structural Biology

Ying Xu
Bioinformatics

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Jeffrey Bennetzen

JEFFREY BENNETZEN

Norman and Doris Giles/GRA Eminent Scholar in Molecular Biology and Functional Genomics


Year Recruited: 2003 | Previous Institution: Purdue University


Bennetzen is translating insights about the genomes of cereals and other grasses into knowledge that can increase crop yields for food and biofuels. His discoveries include the genetic basis of why plant genomes vary more than 1,000-fold in DNA content, which is known as the C-value paradox. His honors include two Fulbright Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and election to the National Academy of Sciences.

Research contributions:

  • Cloned and sequenced the first transposable elements from plants
  • Created the first genetic map of sorghum
University of Georgia researcher David Crich

DAVID CRICH

GRA Eminent Scholar in Drug Design


Year Recruited: 2019 | Previous Institution: Wayne State University


Crich is pursuing the design of novel aminoglycoside antibiotics for the treatment of ESKAPE pathogens, six bacterial pathogens commonly associated with multidrug resistance. He aims to expand into carbohydrate-based areas, developing glycomimetics—therapeutic agents that mimic carbohydrates—for use in drug design.

Research contributions:

  • Developed new glycosylation methods and is known for seminal contributions to the elucidation of the principles of reactivity and selectivity
  • Co-founded the biotech startup Juvabis AG to develop next-generation antibiotics for the treatment of multidrug resistant infectious diseases/span>
UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Stephen Dalton

STEPHEN DALTON

GRA Eminent Scholar in Molecular Cell Biology

Director, Center for Molecular Medicine


Year Recruited: 2002 | Previous Institution: University of Adelaide


Dalton is unlocking the potential of non-embryonic stem cells to replace damaged cells in the body and help grow new, healthy tissue. His research is furthering the basic understanding of developmental processes in stem cells and applying them to conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes and neurological disorders.

Research contributions:

  • Created the first blueprint of how stem cells are wired to respond to signaling molecules

  • Developed a cell-based therapeutic that provides new hope for diabetes patients

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Roberto Docampo

ROBERTO DOCAMPO

Distinguished Research Professor

Barbara and Sanford Orkin/GRA Eminent Scholar in Emerging Diseases and Cellular Biology


Year Recruited: 2005 | Previous Institution: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


Docampo is developing new therapies to treat parasitic diseases such as sleeping sickness. His lab has identified a specific cellular process within the parasite that can be disrupted and is now using this knowledge to develop drugs that attack the parasite without harming the human host.

Research contributions:

  • Discovered that the parasite that causes Chagas disease is susceptible to a common class of antifungal compounds

  • Discovered a previously unknown organelle that is a promising drug target

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Arthur Edison

ARTHUR EDISON

GRA Eminent Scholar of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy


Year Recruited: 2015 | Previous Institution: University of Florida


Edison has pioneered new techniques and instrumentation to advance the field of metabolomics, which is focused on small molecules called metabolites that are essential to life.

Metabolomics has the potential to give scientists the ability to obtain a comprehensive snapshot of a person’s health, opening up new avenues for diagnosing illnesses.

Research contributions:

  • Developed new approaches for the identification of metabolites and established a large center for metabolomics

  • Illuminated the role that small metabolic products play in communication among animals

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Robert Haltiwanger

ROBERT HALTIWANGER

GRA Eminent Scholar in Biomedical Glycoscience


Year Recruited: 2015 | Previous Institution: Stony Brook University


Haltiwanger is shedding light on how cells communicate and applying this knowledge to the development of new drugs. His work has led to the identification of several novel drug targets, and he and his colleagues are now applying their research to cancer, congenital heart defects and other developmental disorders.

Research contributions:

  • Discovered several novel drug targets for cancer and developmental disorders

  • Identified important roles for complex carbohydrates in communication between cells

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Gerald Hart

GERALD HART

William Henry Terry Sr./GRA Eminent Scholar in Drug Discovery


Year Recruited: 2018 | Previous Institution: Johns Hopkins University


Hart and his colleagues discovered a unique sugar that is attached to many proteins and alters their function in response to nutrients and blood glucose levels. Later studies revealed that this complex carbohydrate plays a role in diabetes, cancer and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Hart and his team are currently working to translate this knowledge into improved diagnostic tests.

Research contributions:

  • Discovered a complex carbohydrate involved in diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases

  • Developed a new early detection method for diabetes

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Dennis Kyle

DENNIS KYLE

GRA Eminent Scholar in Antiparasitic Drug Discovery

Director, Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases


Year Recruited: 2017 | Previous Institution: University of South Florida


Kyle is one of the world’s top experts on malaria and other parasitic diseases, and his research is fueling the discovery of powerful new medicines. He also discovered a new way to grow human liver cells in the laboratory, enabling more effective testing of malaria drug candidates.

Research contributions:

  • Identified two promising new anti-malarial drugs as part of international teams

  • Developed two new drug candidates to treat brain-eating amoebae infections

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Robert Maier

ROBERT J. MAIER

Ramsey/GRA Eminent Scholar in Microbial Physiology


Year Recruited: 1998 | Previous Institution: Johns Hopkins University


Maier has shown that some human pathogenic bacteria, including some associated with cancers, are able to use hydrogen produced as a consequence of normal intestinal flora as an energy source for growth. His lab is now working to understand how pathogens survive in this harsh environment, with the goal of identifying potential drug targets.

Research contributions:

  • Discovered that H. pylori, which causes 90% of all gastric cancers, can use hydrogen as an energy source

  • lluminated the processes that bacteria use to metabolize hydrogen

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Vasu Nair

VASU NAIR

GRA Eminent Scholar in Drug Discovery


Year Recruited: 2002 | Previous Institution: University of Iowa


Nair discovered an entirely novel class of HIV integrase inhibitors directed at “the point of no return” in HIV infectivity. Subsequent preclinical studies revealed no adverse treatment–related findings from clinical pathology or clinical chemistry parameters. In addition, preclinical studies revealed that some of these integrase inhibitors had significant therapeutic potential against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Research contributions:

  • Discovered a new class of anti-HIV drugs 

  • Developed drug candidates against fatal HIV/ multidrug-resistant tuberculosis co-infection

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Karen Norris

KAREN NORRIS

Charles Wheatley Chair/GRA Eminent Scholar in Immunology and Translational Biomedicine


Year Recruited: 2016 | Previous Institution: University of Pittsburgh


Norris’ work is focused on the mechanisms of opportunistic infections, which pose serious risks to people with weakened immune systems. In addition to informing new vaccines and therapies, her research also is yielding new knowledge on how the natural aging process, as well as chronic diseases such as HIV, can weaken the immune system.

Research contributions:

  • Led the development of a vaccine to protect against Pneumocystis pneumonia

  • Established animal models for Pneumocystis pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary arterial hypertension

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar James Prestegard

JAMES PRESTEGARD

GRA Eminent Scholar in Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Emeritus


Year Recruited: 1998 | Previous Institution: Yale University


An essential part of developing any new drug is determining how that drug will bind to the protein it is targeting, a process that begins with characterizing the structures and shapes of interacting molecules. Prestegard is a leader in using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to do exactly that.

Research contributions:

  • Developed new NMR-based methods that extend the range of applicability of the technology

  • Revealed new insights into membrane- and carbohydrate-linked proteins that regulate cellular interactions

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross

TED ROSS

GRA Eminent Scholar in Infectious Diseases

Director, Center for Vaccines and Immunology


Year Recruited: 2015 | Previous Institution: Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Florida


Ross is leading a 15-institution team from around the country in a National Institutes of Health initiative to develop a new, more advanced influenza vaccine designed to protect against multiple flu strains with a single dose. Awarded in September 2019 and supported by up to $130 million over seven years, the project will focus initially on those populations most vulnerable to flu infection, including small children, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.

Research contributions:

  • Developed technology to design vaccine candidates against influenza, dengue and HIV

  • Pioneered the use of C3d, a component of the innate immune system, to boost the effectiveness of vaccines

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Steven Stice

STEVEN STICE

GRA Eminent Scholar in Regenerative Medicine

Director, Regenerative Bioscience Center


Year Recruited: 1998 | Previous Institution: University of Massachusetts


Stice looks at the cells in his lab and imagines a hundred possible uses for them: repairing damaged tissue, detecting dangerous substances and creating disease-resistant animals, just to name a few examples. Stice has founded four Georgia companies to commercialize the technologies developed in his lab. Among them is ArunA Biomedical, which has developed proprietary neural exosomes that can be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Research contributions:

  • Awarded the world’s first patent for therapeutic cloning from adult cells

  • First-to-market innovation: Methods of using exosomes for treatment of spinal cord injury, stroke and traumatic brain injury

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Ralph Tripp

RALPH TRIPP

GRA Eminent Scholar in Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies


Year Recruited: 2004 | Previous Institution: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Tripp is translating discoveries on immunity and pathogenesis into new treatments for respiratory diseases and new methods that speed vaccine development. His discoveries have led to the development of antiviral drugs for influenza as well as for RSV, a flu-like virus that can be fatal in young children and the elderly. He is the founder and chief scientific officer of two startup companies—Proventus Bio and Hypercell.

Research contributions:

  • Developed anti-viral drugs for influenza and RSV

  • Discovered new methods for augmenting vaccine expression

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar CJ Tsai

CHUNG-JUI “C.J.” TSAI

Winfred N. “Hank” Haynes/GRA Eminent Scholar in Forest Biotechnology


Year Recruited: 2008 | Previous Institution: Michigan Technological University


Tsai imagines a day when trees are a prime source of biofuel. To make that day a reality, she’s working to design better, hardier trees with higher biomass yields. Using modern genomic tools, she is mapping out ways to accelerate tree growth, make trees more drought resistant and spur them to produce more biomass.

Research contributions:

  • Pioneered the application of CRISPR genome-editing technology to forest trees

  • Identified genes that mediate how trees respond to stresses such as drought

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Bi-Cheng Wang

BI-CHENG WANG

Ramsey/Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Structural Biology

Founding Director, SER-CAT


Year Recruited: 1995 | Previous Institution: University of Pittsburgh


Wang has transformed the field of X-ray crystallography and its use in drug development. He founded a consortium of 25 institutions known as SER-CAT (for Southeast Regional Collaborative Access Team) that has produced data on more than 3,900 protein structures that have been deposited in the Protein Data Bank.

Research contributions:

  • Developed more efficient and cost-effective techniques for X-ray crystallography

  • Part of teams that determined the protein structures of eukaryotic and prokaryotic model organisms C. elegans and P. furiosus

UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Ying Xu

YING XU

Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Bioinformatics


Year Recruited: 2003 | Previous Institution: Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Xu is a computational biologist who uses a portfolio of computational tools, such as the large-scale mining of biological data. Unlike most cancer researchers, who study cultures derived from cancerous cells, Xu and his team analyze genetic data derived from tissues. Their techniques have uncovered important information about how cancer begins.

Research contributions:

  • Developed a model that describes how chronic inflammation and hypoxia can lead to cell proliferation and cancer

  • Developed a urine test to diagnose gastric cancer

Georgia Research Alliance

By partnering with the state’s research universities, the Georgia Research Alliance helps recruit nationally and internationally recognized scientists in areas of strategic importance to the state of Georgia and its economy.

GRA also accelerates the launch and growth of university enterprises through its venture development program and invests in research-driven, Georgia-based startup companies through the GRA Venture Fund.

To learn more, visit gra.org

University of Georgia

With the support of nonprofit partners such as the Georgia Research Alliance, federal and state agencies, and private foundations, the University of Georgia is making strides in research that advances its three Great Commitments:

  • Healthier People
  • A More Secure Future
  • Stronger Communities