“What makes this generation of innovators unique, and what ultimately gives me faith about their future, is that no matter what they encounter in life, they will find a way to figure it out.” That analysis, by entrepreneur and education filmmaker Robert A. Compton, cuts to the core of why Connecticut’s prospects are promising.
The state’s burgeoning bioscience industry is perhaps the best example. Fueled by public and private resources and drive, it is inexorably linked with a committed independent college sector that is developing in today’s students the talent and tenacity to chart the way forward.
Connecticut’s nonprofit independent colleges have solid academic programs and thriving industry collaborations in a range of bioscience business disciplines. They are leading and listening, attentive to industry needs and forward-thinking in developing effective joint ventures. It is a two-way street that is driving Connecticut to the forefront.
More than half of the academic degrees awarded in Connecticut in Biological & Biomedical Sciences (52.9 percent) and Physical Sciences (57.8 percent) are earned at Connecticut’s independent colleges. Innovative initiatives are unleashed every semester, and that bodes well not only for specific colleges and their students, or bioscience companies and their prospects, but for every resident with an interest in a thriving, vibrant state – economically and otherwise.
The essential ingredients for innovation, as expressed by Tony Wagner in “Creating Innovators,” are evident in abundance in Connecticut: agility, adaptability, critical thinking and problem solving, initiative and entrepreneurship, collaboration and communication, and the capacity to access and analyze information.
Wagner, an adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, describes curiosity and imagination as the “wellsprings of innovation.” Connecticut’s formidable “Yankee Ingenuity,” the original description of innovation, is flourishing in our academic departments and bioscience businesses. Some examples:
- The University of Bridgeport has seen a surge in research funding, underscoring the relevance of their applied research focus to government and industry partners. Among them, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) support in partnership with a Small Business Innovation Research award to a local small business for nanotechnology research in biological specimen recovery and NASA funds for multiple faculty and student research projects.
- Fairfield University’s associate professor of physics Min Xu and a team of student researchers have been working toward a new cancer detection and classification technique that could revolutionize the way doctors diagnose and treat the disease. The university also hosts a summer camp for high school girls with the goal of introducing them to the possibilities that science presents, funded by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.
- University of New Haven’s associate professor of biology and environmental science Eva Sapio has conducted extensive research on Lyme disease and recently discovered that the disease can form biofilm in the body which allows it to hide from treatments such as drugs and then reappear later.
- The Genomics and Bioinformatics Core at the Yale Stem Cell Center supports stem cell research for gene expression experiments, transcription mapping analyses and proteomic assays. It is a hub for collaborations and a training site for stem cell researchers who wish to extend their research using genomic approaches.
- At Wesleyan University, stem cell-related research into therapies for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis are under way.
- Connecticut College, which just opened a new science building, has a Science Leaders Program designed to foster a passion for science as it increases the number of women and minority students graduating with research experience. Students begin with an intensive first-year seminar that includes hands-on science ranging from the use of bioluminescence proteins in biotechnology to antibacterial properties of plants.
Connecticut’s reputation as a magnet for academic excellence is a factor in growing existing and attracting new innovative bioscience companies. It is an all-hands-on-deck effort, advancing academic initiatives and groundbreaking research that prepare students to enter highly demanding and cutting-edge labs across the bioscience landscape. The faculty, student, company connections are encouraging and will serve Connecticut well as it continues to draw researchers and entrepreneurs looking to solve tomorrow’s problems today.
Judith B. Greiman is president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC). Paul Pescatello is Chair of We Work For Health CT and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of CURE. CCIC and We Work For Health-CT, an organization of Connecticut’s pharmaceutical industry, co-hosted a Bioscience Forum Friday, April 25, to discuss and promote the link between bioscience faculty, students at academic institutions and the industry sector in the bioscience and research fields.