By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi’s research universities soon will become significantly more competitive with peer institutions in the Southeast because of a new broadband system with 20 times the capacity of existing fiber optic lines.
Gov. Haley Barbour announced formation of the new network on Wednesday in cooperation with AT&T.
Principal beneficiaries will be the University of Mississippi and the UM medical campus in Jackson, Mississippi State University, Jackson State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Barbour said the program will allow the universities to expand 70 ongoing research projects backed by $381 million in federal funds invested in the state.
“This network will transform our universities’ capabilities and academic competitiveness on a global scale,” Barbour said.
“This is work that often leads to the creation of new companies and jobs for Mississippians.”
Many of the projects have names that immediately identify them as advanced science, mathematics and technology, with all focused on long-term practical outcomes.
Barbour said the network will be of special import for projects at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, such as the Jackson Heart Study where $38 million has been expended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The Jackson Heart Study, a project of international stature, is “the largest study in history to investigate the inherited (genetic) factors that affect high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other important diseases in African Americans.
“These studies are likely to lead to the development of new treatments that do more good and less harm than treatments that are available today,” the study’s Website says in describing its scope.
Felix Okojie, chair of the Mississippi Research Consortium and vice president of Research and Federal Relations at JSU, said the network will put the state on at least par with neighboring states.
Many medical studies confirm that there is a “greater prevalence of cardiovascular disease among African-Americans, (and) the purpose of the Jackson Heart Study is to explore the reasons for this disparity and to uncover new approaches to reduce it.”
Beyond the direct relationship with UMMC, the study’s goals include enhancing the search capacity about cardiovascular disease and predispositions at minority institutions, which further deepens the positive impact.
The study can use the advanced fiber optic technology to better translate, communicate and analyze data from the study participants.
The JHS is large – 5,301 participants were recruited from among the non-institutionalized African-American adults from metropolitan Jackson (Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties). Mississippi has the largest percentage (36.3 percent) of African Americans in the United States, which illustrates the magnitude and importance of the study and why cutting edge technology is essential.
At the bottom line, JHS researchers translate into “lay” language their findings and recommendations so that participants can see how their help makes a difference, just as does the National Institutes of Health partnership.
In addition, as the Journal earlier reported, the Mississippi Department of Information Technology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, and the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County also will be part of the network.
Barbour said it would have cost $70 million to develop the infrastructure, but the state will pay $16 million to rent the infrastructure for eight years and fully use its 20 gigabit communications ability.
The network is expected to be in operation by the end of the year, and a new age of beneficial technology starts for the participating universities and other institutions.