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Wright State research leader plans to double growth

The Wright State Research Institute’s new director said he plans to double the organization’s full-time staff and $20 million research portfolio over the next five years.

“We are going to grow the region by growing ourselves and growing Wright State University,” said Jason Parker, a medical physicist who on May 18 was appointed director of the university’ s research arm.

The institute was founded in 2007 to solve human performance problems for businesses and the U.S. Department of Defense by connecting them with Wright State’s researchers, scientists and resources. It has grown from two to about 70 employees, and its research portfolio doubled to $20 million in fiscal year 2012 from $10 million in fiscal 2011.

Last October, the institute moved from the university campus to its new headquarters at 4035 Colonel Glenn Highway in Beavercreek, after purchasing the former Science Applications International Corp. building for $1.8 million.

Parker, 33, joined the institute in 2012 as manager of the institute’s Neuroscience and Medical Imaging (NMI) program. The program uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other technology to map the brain and study augmentation methods to improve the effectiveness of U.S. military personnel.

“Being able to image the human brain with great specificity and learn more how the brain works enables us to make healthy brains perform better, but clearly there are all these applications into helping unhealthy brains get better,” he said.

Parker’s NMI program proposal with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base resulted in a $5 million research contract for the university over five years. As both the NMI technical lead and program manager, Parker secured an additional $250,000 in funding for the program from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

University officials said the program represents the institute’s largest potential growth area.

A native of Sarasota, Fla., Parker came to the Dayton area in 2008 as an MRI physicist at Kettering Health Network. He helped launch the Imaging Science Research department, where he served as senior scientist, to expand Kettering Health’s research capabilities to improve patient care at its facilities.

Parker left Kettering Health last year to start Parker Physics and Research, a national diagnostic physics testing, consulting and research company headquartered in Dayton. He said his active involvement in that company will end so that he can focus on WSRI.

Parker takes an entrepreneurial approach to research and development, said Robert Fyffe, vice president for research at Wright State University.

“Under his direction, the institute will work with Wright State faculty from throughout our campus, as well as developing more industry opportunities for research collaboration,” Fyffe said. “We expect also to see numerous new technologies and other forms of intellectual property developed over the next decade, which the university hopes will contribute to new commercialization and business opportunities.”

Parker projected that the institute will have up to 500 employees and a $150 million research portfolio in 20 to 30 years. That growth will come through funded research with both public and private partners, as well as the commercialization of research products currently being developed, he said.

In comparison, the University of Dayton Research Institute performs $95 million in annual research and has a full-time staff of nearly 400.

Parker also hopes to raise Wright State’s research profile as the institute continues to grow and attract new research opportunities for faculty.

“Our business model right now is really focused on our human performance research and on growing our collaboration and partnerships with the 711th Human Performance Wing, and utilizing the academic assets that we have to do that,” Parker said.

In addition, Parker sees “great potential” to seek National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for the Clinical Trials Research Alliance. The collaborative program with Premier Health and Wright State’s Boonshoft School of Medicine could become a test site for large, multi-center pharmaceutical and medical device trials.

“We are going to be positioned really well to be a test site and to participate in those studies, and in doing so be able to tap into that NIH funding that supports that,” he said.

Federal funding of U.S. research and development this year is expected to drop 1.4 percent to $128.8 billion, according to Battelle’s 2013 Global R&D Funding Forecast. This constitutes 30 percent of all U.S. research funding, the report said.

Parker said the institute will start partnering with the private sector, including “large, corporate industry partners that build equipment and make and market new pharmaceuticals, for example.”

Commercialization will support future growth of the institute, but it may be 15 to 20 years before commercialized products represent the majority of its revenue stream, he said.

Parker replaces Ryan Fendley, who moved to the university on May 1 to serve as special adviser to Provost Sundaram Narayanan. Narayanan was appointed university provost on March 18 after a national search. Narayanan helped create and lead WSRI, and continues to serve as its executive director.

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