Rutgers University–New Brunswick announced today a sweeping new financial aid program that builds upon existing state aid programs to enable New Jersey students with family incomes below $65,000 to attend the university tuition free. The program also provides a sliding scale that significantly limits the amount of out-of-pocket tuition and fees paid by students with family incomes below $100,000.
The Scarlet Guarantee will be available to first- and second-year students and is linked to the Garden State Guarantee, a new statewide program launched last month by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy for third- and fourth-year students. An estimated 7,600 students at Rutgers University-New Brunswick are expected to take advantage of the programs.
“These new programs are transformational for our state’s students,” said Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway. “Students who once thought a college education could never be within reach will have the access and opportunity to fulfill their life’s ambition. I couldn’t be more thrilled that Rutgers-New Brunswick will now be more inclusive of all students.”
In combination with the Garden State Guarantee, the Scarlet Guarantee will provide the following coverage for undergraduate students for four years:
- Adjusted Gross Income of $65,000 or less: Full annual tuition and mandatory fees
- Adjusted Gross Income of $65,001 to $80,000: Students will pay no more than $3,000 per year toward tuition and mandatory fees
- Adjusted Gross Income of $80,001 to $100,000: Students will pay no more than $5,000 per year toward tuition and mandatory fees
“I applaud President Holloway and Chancellor-Provost Conway for their bold initiative to put a Rutgers undergraduate education within reach for more students,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. “The Scarlet Guarantee builds upon the foundation of our Garden State Guarantee program and is a game changer for the Rutgers community. I look forward to seeing other colleges and universities across New Jersey take similar steps to make college more affordable.”
The program provides “last dollar” financial aid that covers the gap in the cost of in-state tuition and mandatory fees after other state and federal aid programs are provided to qualified students.
“The Scarlet Guarantee program will help qualified students from across New Jersey realize their hopes, dreams and ambitions and will help Rutgers become an even richer and more diverse university,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway.
Students are automatically considered for the Scarlet Guarantee when they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or, if they qualify as a New Jersey Dreamer, the NJ Alternative Financial Aid Application.
The Garden State Guarantee was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy and will be first implemented in the 2022-23 academic year.
“A Rutgers degree will open so many doors, and many more students can now pursue all the opportunities afforded by a world-class research university without worrying about whether they can afford it,” said Courtney McAnuff, vice chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “We are deeply appreciative of Gov. Murphy’s commitment to making college more affordable and are happy to join his efforts.”
Rutgers–New Brunswick is New Jersey’s top-ranked public university and is regularly ranked among the best public research universities in the world. In recent years, it has redoubled its commitment to increasing pathways for its 35,000 undergraduate students, who come from all economic backgrounds.
The announcement comes at an apt time for the university as it celebrates its ninth annual Access Week. From Feb. 21 -25, student-facing programming and lectures on campus will focus on how the university can champion educational equity and unlock pathways for success for current and prospective first-generation, low-income and other underserved students.
Last updated February 13, 2022, 12:30 p.m.
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We’re on the brink of a new era, one in which machines aren’t simply tools we use but partners we work with. Developing that partnership in a way that is ethically, morally, and socially just is the subject of the first episode of the Advance Rutgers podcast. Peter March, executive dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, explains how an exciting interdisciplinary effort called Minds and Machines will push the frontiers of science and responsible innovation in the age of intelligent tools.
Learn more about this and other signature initiatives taking place at Rutgers.
On Rutgers Giving Day, schools and programs across Rutgers raise money for specific funds and compete in hourly and leaderboard challenges to win award money. Last year, the Livingston Theatre Company raised $16,373, including award money, from 322 donors.
Each participating partner fund has its own campaign page and its own dedicated link to share with supporters. To ensure success, each partner needs to recruit a minimum of 10 Rutgers Giving Day ambassadors (alumni, students, faculty, staff, or friends) per fund to help spread the word within their own personal networks.
Learn how to support a fund on Giving Day
Not sure if your department or program should get involved? Take a moment to watch the Rutgers Giving Day recruitment video below to learn why you should.
Generally speaking, 50 years changes a lot. In 1971, cars averaged 12.1 miles to the gallon. Median household income was $9,031. Women could not legally open credit cards in their own names. Richard Nixon had a couple of years left in his ill-fated second term. All in the Family premiered on CBS. Rutgers Law professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and students, led by editor in chief Elizabeth Langer, were getting ready to publish The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal of its kind in the United States.
It’s stunning to think that within living memory of many Rutgers graduates, the nation’s best legal scholars and practitioners were debating equal rights for women. Less stunning is the fact that the drivers of progress found a home at Rutgers—not just an intellectual home, but a laboratory for real, palpable change—change that was embodied in action at the highest levels of government and society.
Langer, one of the journal’s co-founders, said of Ginsburg’s involvement, “I didn’t know her, but I had heard that she was deeply interested in women’s legal issues. I thought to myself, ‘Why not ask?’ She immediately said yes, which surprised me because it was a big commitment.”
Ginsburg, Langer, and their colleagues didn’t only create knowledge or espouse theory; they advanced legal arguments to the highest court in the land and fundamentally changed American society. They used their expertise and energy to improve the human condition. Although Ginsburg was famously (and justifiably) germ averse, her willingness to get her hands dirty, figuratively speaking, made all the difference—and aligned neatly with Rutgers’ mandate as a land-grant institution.
Below are four more historic ideas that took flight at Rutgers—and helped change the world as they launched.
Charting a University and a Nation
George Hammel Cook was many things: engineer, explorer, chemist, agrarian, geologist. His ideas were big. Cook’s broad research and practical experience led to his appointment to undertake a new geological survey of New Jersey in 1864. His work would become the model for the U.S. Geological Survey, the nation’s largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency.
Less well known was Cook’s lobbying prowess. Cook led efforts to designate Rutgers as New Jersey’s land-grant college (edging out Princeton, among others) under the Morrill Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The act provided for the establishment of a college dedicated to scientific and classical studies, military tactics, agriculture, and the mechanical arts. A unique American contribution to higher education, the land-grant concept applied scientific research to local problems. It codified the American ideals of exploration, discovery, egalitarian education—and getting dirty along the way.
Digging in the Dirt
In 1943, soil culture research by Rutgers professor Selman Waksman and graduate students Elizabeth Bugie and Albert Schatz led to the discovery of streptomycin—the first effective treatment for tuberculosis (TB), the disease that killed John Keats, Vivien Leigh, James Monroe, and likely Eleanor Roosevelt. Before streptomycin’s wide adoption as a treatment for TB, the death toll was in the hundreds of thousands each year. Waksman spent years studying actinomycetes, a naturally antibiotic organism found in the New Jersey soil, before developing streptomycin commercially with Merck. A Rutgers College alumnus, Waksman received the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Nearly 70 years after Waksman’s discovery and development of streptomycin, Rutgers researcher David Alland—chief of infectious diseases and director of the Public Health Research Institute at New Jersey Medical School—developed a test to detect tuberculosis in less than two hours, a fitting coda to Waksman’s achievement.
The head of Rutgers’ Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, Alland would make national headlines in 2020 by developing one of the nation’s first rapid tests for COVID-19. Rutgers researchers’ immediate response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been well documented. Within months of the first reported case, they produced several groundbreaking tests for the virus, exponentially accelerating the disease’s detection. The university’s medical resources mobilized in one of the nation’s pandemic hotspots; partnerships with pharmaceutical companies helped spur the development of vaccines; and students, faculty, staff, and community members put their heads together to create solutions for a vastly altered and traumatized world.
In 1983, Donna Wong NUR’70, spurred by a deep concern for the pain children feel but cannot articulate, created something new: a friendly tool for young patients to use in expressing their discomfort. The Wong/Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale helps patients rank their discomfort using “smiley” and “unhappy” faces. While deceptively simple, the FACES scale has proved revolutionary, becoming the worldwide standard for assessing children’s pain. Wong was the first recipient of the Audrey Hepburn/Sigma Theta Tau International Award from the Honor Society of Nursing for contributions to the health and welfare of children.
Advancing Civil Rights
While Ruth Bader Ginsburg crafted novel legal arguments to assert women’s rights, Rutgers College sophomore Lionel Cuffie was busy founding the Student Homophile League (SHL), the second gay rights student group in the nation. The group was developed in 1969 in collaboration with Columbia University students, who had organized the first.
Cuffie defined SHL as a “civil libertarian and educational” organization, pronouncing that “the homosexual has a moral right in our pluralistic society to be a homosexual, and that bigotry and emotional prejudice against homosexuals is unjust.” Cuffie, an African American activist, became the group’s first chair and most visible presence in campus politics over the next two years.
Our lives and accomplishments inevitably fade into history. But the closer you look, the less distant some historic Rutgers initiatives become—especially just a short time removed from the outbreak of a global pandemic and social unrest.
In 1968 and 1971, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Lionel Cuffie were advocating for their rights, the nation was deeply divided—roiled by protest and consumed by the war in Vietnam. George Cook’s most critical work took place during a time of even deeper division: The American Civil War. Then, as now, the response to crisis was determination. The reaction to threat was courage. And the antidote to gridlock was innovation.
Learn more about Rutgers signature iniatives.
The total number of global deaths linked to COVID-19 recently surpassed 4 million, with the United States experiencing the most (15 percent) of any country. While these numbers are staggering, to put them into further context, an estimated 1.5 million children around the world now have lost a parent, grandparent, or other caregiver to a virus they never saw coming. Of course, coronavirus molecules are so small they couldn’t see them if they tried.
The devastating toll of COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on everyone, but it has also raised our collective awareness of the many other pandemic dangers lurking beyond the horizon. “The challenge that we, as humans, are facing in the 21st century are novel and persistent infectious diseases that are rising and spreading at alarming rates,” says William Gause, director of the Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Disease. “This is in part because our increased mobility allows the rapid spread of these diseases around the world as we travel by airplane and other means. It is also due to our huge and dense populations that can host new pathogens in large numbers, providing a critical mass for their rapid evolution into even more dangerous variants.” Case in point, the past two decades have born witness to a series of large-scale viral breakouts: SARS in 2003, swine flu in 2009, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016, and COVID-19 in 2019.
Rutgers’ strengths in infectious and inflammatory disease research allowed the university to establish itself at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Within months of the first reported COVID-19 case, Rutgers researchers produced several groundbreaking tests for the virus, exponentially accelerating the disease’s detection. Working across disciplines, Rutgers researchers developed models to better understand SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, while university medical school partnerships with pharmaceutical companies helped spur the development of vaccines.
Informed by Rutgers’ experience addressing COVID-19, David Alland, director of the new Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness (CCRP2), sees a future in which university scientists can proactively respond to viral outbreaks instead of being reactive. That’s partly why the center has developed open-source diagnostic tests for Covid-19. “We created these tests as an open-source project because we want to get them out there to detect variants and to develop a flexible system that can be used worldwide,” says Alland.
Recognizing that it would be impossible to address the vast array of potential microbial threats individually, the center is formulating strategies to evaluate and respond to outbreaks of all kinds. “It’s about what we can learn from responding to this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” Alland says.
Optimizing immune response
One major focus of the CCRP2 involves fundamental research into understanding how a new pathogen interacts with the host immune system for the purpose of developing more effective treatments and vaccines. From there the center leverages clinical and other trial resources to determine the efficacy of novel vaccines and therapeutics. “Developing models for COVID allows us to do immunological studies to better understand how the body fights off this disease and how we can help it better control its immune response to the disease,” Alland says.
These models have helped advance novel treatments to control viral replication and harmful inflammation, a core contributor to the lung injury and dysfunction associated with COVID-19. “New treatments for COVID can also provide insights into new treatments for the next virus or bacteria or even fungus that might cause a pandemic,” says Gause.
“One of the holy grails of immunology,” says Gause, “is coming up with ways of modulating the COVID-19 immune response without compromising the components that lead to resistance and host protection.” Of the millions who have already had COVID-19, an estimated 26 percent suffer long-term effects that range from cognitive to cardiovascular disorders. “As with many infectious diseases, a major cause of these disorders is our own immune system malfunctioning. In the response to COVID, our immune systems can become hyperactivated, resulting in damage to our own tissues and organs that lasts long after the virus has been irradicated. New treatments are needed to modulate the immune response so we can control the harmful inflammation without impairing our body’s ability to mount an immune response that can destroy the virus.”
Working with live viruses
Charged with a mandate to predict and prepare for the emergence of the next deadly virus, the CCRP2 is also developing rapid-response preparedness capabilities to address a broad range of emerging and re-emerging pathogens. “We are fortunate at Rutgers to have four large biocontainment laboratories that can work with the highest threat pathogens,” Alland says. “These facilities are quite rare around the world, especially ones of this size, and they allow us to work with dangerous live viruses like SARS-CoV-2, tuberculosis, anthrax, and the plague.”
Alland is quick to note that the center has developed a core of experts in Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) practices, who can not only work with live viruses but also conduct experiments for other scientists in the biocontainment laboratories. “These experts can help with virology studies, high-threat pathogen research, immunological and diagnostic testing [as well as working] on the actual genetics of viruses and helping with next generation sequencing studies to look at different variants.”
In the long term, they can develop models for observational and epidemiological studies to help the center better understand the natural history and transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Significant investment in infrastructure upgrades to the biocontainment laboratories and recruitment of premier faculty with BSL-3 training and expertise in viral pathogenesis and inflammation will increase the center’s capacity to finally end the COVID-19 epidemic and prepare for the next one.
Preparing for the next pandemic
“Rutgers has always had a strong focus on infectious disease dating back to Selman Waksman’s discovery of streptomycin,” says Alland. “This has put us in a place where we have the kind of breadth and diversity in our research capabilities that other biomedical universities just don’t have.” And the university’s strengths in medical research means that the CCRP2 team can do testing and conduct therapeutic trials.
This is important, Alland notes, because there are many researchers working on drugs that attack the virus, but only a few are looking at drugs and compounds that can help a human host respond better to COVID-19 and other pathogens. “We don’t like doing things that everyone else does,” says Alland. “We don’t mind doing things that are a little more out there but can have a huge impact on human health.”
Case in point: CCRP2 recently released new diagnostic tests capable of rapidly detecting the new COVID-19 variants. This project is open source, because being able to test on a larger, faster scale will make all the difference when it comes time to face the next viral outbreak.
With the critical mass of outstanding scientists actively engaged in immunology and infectious disease research and incredible resources for conducting that research, the Rutgers CCRP2 team is well positioned to pivot to preventing the next pandemic. “We have a lot of exciting treatments coming up right now in which we’re able to manipulate particular molecules and modulate them to control information,” says Gause. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”
Dating apps that bar people with criminal backgrounds can create a false sense of security for people planning to meet someone they’ve met on an app, says a Rutgers professor. “Meeting strangers can be risky, and I worry that this approach will mislead people into thinking they’re safe,” says Sarah Lageson, an assistant professor at Rutgers’ School of Criminal Justice. Lageson, who studies the growing use of online criminal records, tells NBC News, “It’s using the justice system as a barometer of someone’s worth.”
NBC News | Many dating apps ban people convicted of felonies. Does that make anyone safer?
Early data shows that the pandemic has had a greater financial impact on women than on men in New Jersey and around the world. “It goes beyond anecdotes,” Yana Rodgers, faculty director of Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work, tells The Star-Ledger. “More women than men are dropping out to take care of children or work part time.” Many New Jersey women in low-paying jobs left the workforce entirely in 2020 and 2021 and that is likely to skew the wage gap numbers in the coming years, Rodgers says.
NJ.com | Here’s how much less N.J. women earned compared to men — and why experts say it’s getting worse
WHYY features insight from David Cennimo NJMS’01, an assistant professor of medicine in adult and pediatric infectious diseases at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, on the CDC’s new guidelines that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks. Cennimo says that although the vaccine offers safety from COVID-19, he still strongly advises people to continue wearing masks, limiting social interactions, and conducting social activities outdoors. “Truthfully, the science is really saying vaccinated equals safer, not 100 percent safe, because we have seen people that have gotten breakthrough infections and have been moderately ill. And we don’t know that it’s absolutely impossible for them to transmit the virus to someone else,” says Cennimo. “But all in all, at a population level, the science is pointing towards safety from vaccines.”
WHYY | Fully vaccinated and maskless: What does that mean for safety?
Rutgers researchers report on findings that those infected with COVID-19 are at risk for coagulation disorders such as blood clots. Payal Parikh RWJMS’10, an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and leader of the study, advises physicians to watch out for unexpected swelling in a patient’s arms and legs to ensure that blood clots are prevented. “This is of concern since in 30 percent of these patients, the blood clot can travel to the lung and be possibly fatal,” Parikh tells The Asbury Park Press.
App. | Another potential COVID infection complication: Deep blood clots in the arm
People profiles former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand SAS’14, who talks about his life since becoming paralyzed and the process of opening the LeGrand Coffee House in Woodbridge, New Jersey. About his introduction to the coffee business, LeGrand says that “after I came up with the idea in July and August, I educated myself, I learned as much as possible, [and have] been through the ups and downs at the beginning of entrepreneurship, learning this and that.” LeGrand adds that “it’s been a fun journey so far.”
People.com | Eric LeGrand, Who Was Paralyzed in a College Football Game 10 Years Ago, Continues to Inspire
The New York Times reports that Jerome Kagan RC’50, a renowned psychologist who earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Rutgers, has died at age 92. After earning a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and serving in the military, Kagan accepted an offer from Harvard to help establish its first human development program and was named a psychology professor there in 1964. Fellow Harvard faculty member Daniel Gilbert described Kagan as “one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century” and called Kagan’s research “prescient, foreshadowing the coming merger of psychology and biology in its attempt to link behavior to the brain.”
New York Times | Jerome Kagan, Who Tied Temperament to Biology, Dies at 92
Over the past few decades, amid many marvelous medical advances, people appear to be getting sicker. Daily headlines announce the gravity of today’s “modern plagues” such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. It’s likely that you, someone in your family, or someone you know is managing one or more of these conditions. Unlike most lethal diseases of the past, which struck relatively fast and hard, these are chronic conditions that can diminish a person’s quality of life for decades.
Why are all these maladies rapidly rising? Is it mere coincidence? Could there be one underlying cause fueling these increases? These are just some of the provocative questions behind the Rutgers University Microbiome Program, one of many signature initiatives at Rutgers conceived to harness the university’s academic and research strengths for the purposes of improving the human condition and creating meaningful, global change.
The microbiome consists of the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms living in and on human bodies, animals, plants, and our environment. The champions behind the Microbiome Program are Martin Blaser, Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome and director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine; Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Henry Rutgers Professor of Microbiome and Health and director of the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health; and Liping Zhao, Eveleigh-Fenton Chair of Applied Microbiology. These experts believe multidisciplinary efforts to study, preserve, and restore the microbiome could play a significant role in staving off illness, prolonging the human health span, and creating healthier ecosystems.
“Because of modern life—sanitation, antibiotics—we’re changing the microbiome, and those changes have consequences,” says Blaser. “The ways that we have been changing the development of a normal microbiome in early life have moved us out of health and into disease.”
To address the challenges brought on by these changes, the program will promote the preservation of microbiome diversity and foster the development of new solutions for restoring and maintaining healthy microbiota. It also will train students to be the next generation of physicians and scientists in microbiome research and accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries to products and practices that improve global wellness.
Save the microbes
“We all know that the microbiome is important for our health,” says Dominguez-Bello. “We know that our genes are regulated by the microbiome, that our gene functions are interacting with microbes, that our microbes dictate a lot of what our immune and metabolic systems do. But we don’t yet know all the microbes behind the modern plagues. Until we understand and identify the key microbes we need to stay heathy, we need to preserve the whole thing.”
To protect as many different kinds of microbes as possible, Dominguez-Bello is training local teams around the world to collect samples from indigenous communities with limited contact with outsiders, whose intestines contain certain kinds of bacteria that may no longer exist in other humans. In her own work in the Venezuelan Amazon rainforest, Dominguez-Bello discovered that the Yanomami—hunter-gatherers subsisting largely on cassava, palm hearts, and wild bananas, as well as fish, frogs, and monkeys—appear to have twice the microbial diversity as people living in the United States.
The new microbe samples will be retained in an international network of regional collections and in a proposed Microbiota Vault—a centralized global repository to be constructed in a safe, cold, politically neutral location. Some call it a Noah’s Ark for beneficial germs.
“We owe future generations the microbes that colonized our ancestors for at least 200,000 years of human evolution,” Dominguez-Bello says. “We must begin before it is too late, for the future of humanity.”
The loss of microbial diversity impacts not only human health but also the well-being of plants, animals, and ecosystems. For instance, healthy soil microbiota are critical for growing food crops and sustaining wildlife, and microbiota in the oceans and other bodies of water that help feed and support the life of countless species are diminishing due to climate change and urbanization.
Such is the case for the relationship between reef-building corals and their microbiome, where nutritional and biogeochemical recycling provides the necessary benefits to fuel high reef productivity. Climate change is taxing the capacity of coral reefs to adapt and maintain ecosystem function under increasing temperatures and ocean acidification. Rutgers researchers are tracking the dynamics of the coral microbiome across stressors, treatments, and time.
Without microbial diversity, biodiversity of all kinds suffers—and the planet is less able to support the panoply of life.
One goal of the Microbiome Project is to develop interventions that can reseed and restore beneficial microbes in the digestive tracts of people whose health is at risk because of diminished microbial diversity, which often results from poor diet and/or antibiotic overuse.
“Restoring a healthy gut microbiome is key to helping patients recover their health and regain quality of life,” Zhao says. A highly processed, low-fiber diet (which is common in the U.S.) does not adequately feed our microbiota and is one of many microbial changes people who move from traditional societies to urbanized ones experience, causing rates of numerous chronic illnesses to skyrocket. People following typical modern eating patterns who reduce their microbe diversity may need to adjust their diet or use nutritional products that support the beneficial bacteria in their bodies.
“Our ancestors took in 200 to 400 grams of dietary fiber a day; we now take in 20 grams or even less,” says Zhao, the lead author of a groundbreaking 2018 study in Science that found a high-fiber diet that included whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods, and prebiotics positively altered the microbiota in subjects with type 2 diabetes, improving disease outcomes. “Back when Chinese students came to the United States in the 1980s, many of them started to develop type 2 diabetes, which is rare among their siblings who remained in China.”
Working with private industry, Rutgers scientists are at the vanguard of an international effort to link microbial diversity with health and disease outcomes. These partnerships also aim to produce, deliver, grow, and engineer food and supplements designed to meet the microbiota needs of people of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and geographic origins. New Jersey ranks fourth in the United States for diversity, making Rutgers an ideal place from which to launch these research endeavors and translate them into life-changing therapeutics that meet the needs of our diverse communities. With access to over 4 million patients through Rutgers Health and our partner RWJBarnabas Health, the largest health system in New Jersey, Rutgers has a unique opportunity to apply scientific discoveries to bedside treatments and vice versa—taking real‐time clinical observations into the laboratory for further exploration.
In partnership with DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, Blaser has begun a two-year study focused on improving quality of life in cancer patients by modulating the microbiome to decrease gut inflammation caused by chemotherapy. Recent studies demonstrate that the microbiome plays an important role in gut inflammation and that oral intake of oncology drugs can induce enterocolitis, or inflammation of the digestive tract. The administration of beneficial microbes and supplements may lead to improved overall patient care and comfort for people undergoing cancer treatment.
“The interaction of the microbiome with cancer is an important frontier. Our project aims to discover new ways to improve cancer therapies,” says Blaser.
Impact of the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has not derailed Rutgers’ microbiome scientists. Recently, Dominguez-Bello turned to Zoom to train teams in Peru on the microbe collection process, altering the original plan to conduct these workshops in person. “And that’s okay,” she says, adding that the next locations for trainings are Indonesia and Guatemala.
For Zhao, the pandemic prompted a new study focused on people with diabetes who are diagnosed with COVID-19. “Their gut is overgrown with various pathogens and therefore their foundation guild [the healthy microbiota that work together in the gut] is low, so they have a much higher risk of bacterial complications,” Zhao says. In partnership with the University of South Florida, Zhao is evaluating whether a nutritional supplement aimed at bolstering coronavirus patients’ foundation guild early in the course of the illness can reduce disease severity and/or the need for hospitalization.
Meanwhile, Blaser is studying the potential connection between the microbiome and COVID-19 with funding from Danone North America. “Our hypothesis is that the health of the microbiome prior to COVID-19 infection is a predictor of the severity of COVID-19 and susceptibility for long-haul symptoms,” Blaser says. “The key is to study people before they got infected to determine the possibility of harnessing beneficial microbes to develop new pre- and probiotics. We hope this leads to COVID-19 management strategies, including treatment and prevention through dietary intervention.”
Rutgers at the forefront
As microbiome science expands, academic centers must position themselves to fulfill the multidisciplinary requirements needed to fully understand the role of microbiota and their dynamic interactions with their hosts and other microbes. It is also critical to develop capacities to engineer new diagnostics and develop interventional strategies that can be applied in a variety of fields, including ecology, agriculture, nutrition, and medicine.
Already, the Microbiome Program has mobilized more than 100 innovative and intellectually diverse scientists and physicians representing multiple disciplines, including genetics, metabolomics, proteomics, pharmacy, computer science, engineering, medicine, chemistry, biology, and nutrition. The team benefits from Rutgers’ unique and robust resources, which include the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine; the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health; the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository; the Office of Research and Economic Development; the NIH-funded CTSA (NJActs); and the Rutgers University Biomedical Research Innovation Cores, which offer a variety of analytical tools to assist with all aspects of microbiome research.
As the nation’s eighth oldest academic institution and a public land-grant university, Rutgers is committed to teaching the next generation of innovators and sharing science-based knowledge with the public. Given the promising impact of microbiome research, it is fitting that the university is supporting cutting-edge microbiome research with the input of bioethicists, social scientists, economists, and attorneys working at the intersections of science, technology, bioinformatics, politics, and public health to generate a deeper understanding and provide clearer communication to policy makers, economists, and the public.
All of these assets position Rutgers to establish a high-impact microbiome program—truly a first of its kind globally.
“We cannot use the traditional way of doing research to understand the microbiome,” says Zhao. “But if we work together, we can achieve great things.”