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Newsworthy

Friday, July 17
– Virginia Bioinformatics Institute researchers present systems biology as a clinical approach to cancer

Thursday, July 16
– eVA passes $20B purchase mark
– ACLU praises Newport News for action allowing tea party

Thursday, July 16
– eVA passes $20B purchase mark
– ACLU praises Newport News for action allowing tea party

Wednesday, July 15
– State to hold Telework Day

Tuesday, July 14
– Public Policy Virginia announces Community Power Initiative

Monday, July 13
– Grant will boost history lessons in Western Virginia schools

Friday, July 17
Virginia Bioinformatics Institute researchers present systems biology as a clinical approach to cancer

Four researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech and their colleagues at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine are advocating the use of systems biology as an innovative clinical approach to cancer.

This approach could result in the development of improved diagnostic tools and treatment options, as well as potential new drug targets to help combat the many potentially fatal types of the disease.

In an upcoming paper in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, the international journal of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology, the team highlights the usefulness of a systems biology approach in developing a comprehensive view of cancer diseases, which will help researchers better understand the complex processes related to cancer progression, diagnosis, and treatment.

Systems biology brings together mathematical modeling, simulations, and quantitative experiments, allowing researchers to use the data of one of the approaches to repeatedly define the framework of the other approaches. Biochemical networks are central to biological function, while computer models provide a particularly useful way to understand their workings. Biochemical models are the ideal means to design and predict the effect of interventions, such as cancer treatments.

“One of the goals of this paper is to show the potential benefits that can result from moving the use of systems biology techniques closer to the clinic,” explained Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Professor Reinhard Laubenbacher.

“We believe this kind of shift is very possible. For example, mathematical models could integrate patient characteristics to help researchers determine the features of dynamic processes linked to cancer progression, diagnosis, and treatment. Systems biology has an increasingly important role in cancer research and treatment, especially as mathematical modelers, biologists, and clinicians continue working together. Through these transdisciplinary efforts, the needs of the clinic can directly impact work in the laboratory,” he added.

According to the researchers, before the functional differences between a cancer cell and a normal cell can be understood, an assessment of the overall biochemical network, not just the individual molecular mechanisms involved, is needed.

A more complete picture of the system’s dynamic characteristics can help contribute to the development of improved diagnostics and techniques that can disrupt the progression of the disease. They discuss three case studies related to diagnostics, therapy, and drug development in detail to demonstrate how a systems-level view can provide important insights related to the disease.

The examples, which involve cases of breast cancer, B-cell lymphomas, and colorectal cancer, demonstrate the various kinds of clinical issues that can arise, as well as the use of different mathematical methods that can be used in a systems biology approach.

According to Wake Forest University Professor of Medicine Steve Akman, “The systems biology approach provides an opportunity for major advancements in our understanding of carcinogenesis. Cancer biologists are just beginning to understand what mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists have long known – that the behavior of dynamic systems are more than just the sum of the individual components. The [Virginia Bioinformatics Institute]-Wake Forest collaborative group was established in response to the realization that the potential applications of systems biology to the cancer problem will be affected only through collaborations between cancer biologists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists.”
In addition to Laubenbacher and Akman, other contributors to the paper included Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Associate Professor Vladimir Shulaev, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Associate Professor and University of Manchester Professor of Computer Science Pedro Mendes, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Bioinformatician Abdul Jarrah, Georgia Institute of Technology Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Valerie Hower, Wake Forest University Professor of Biochemistry Suzy Torti, and Professor and Director of Wake Forest University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Frank Torti.

The work was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health and financial support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the United Kingdom.

   

Thursday, July 16
eVA passes $20B purchase mark

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today announced that eVA, the Commonwealth’s Electronic Procurement System, has surpassed $20 billion in purchases of goods and services and saved the Commonwealth and taxpayers more than $280 million through streamlined purchasing and improved transparency and accountability of the procurement process.

“eVA has introduced a whole new level of procurement transparency and accountability to state officials and the general public and it has leveled the playing field for small, women, and minority-owned businesses to participate in the state’s business opportunities,” Gov. Kaine said. “eVA has increased the Commonwealth’s efficiency, reduced the cost of government, and allowed us to leverage our buying power, all critical objectives during these tough budget times.”

Since the program was started in 2001, eVA has had more than five million products posted online and more than 38,000 private vendors registered. The eVA program leverages Virginia’s buying power and reduces purchasing time and administrative costs. More than 171 state agencies and 575 local governments do business using eVA. In 2008 alone eVA processed more than 580,000 purchase transactions.

Virginia is viewed as a pioneer in the e-procurement field. Other states and nations, including Canada, Portugal, and Indonesia, have sought Virginia’s advice on developing their own programs. eVA is coordinated by the Division of Purchases and Supply in Virginia’s Department of General Services.

To develop eVA, the Commonwealth partnered with CGI Technologies and Solutions Inc, a leading provider of information technology and business process services with offices in Fairfax, Virginia. Working closely with CGI, eVA was designed specifically for Virginia to modernize and simplify the procurement process. Modifications to the electronic procurement system are continually made in order to meet the Commonwealth’s diverse and changing needs. This June, the Commonwealth and CGI signed a $70 million contract renewal extending the eVA contract thru June 2016.

“A recently released report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission regarding the ‘Impact of eVA on Small Virginia Businesses’ has validated the importance of eVA to the many small, women, and minority-owned businesses that are the backbone of Virginia’s economy,” said Viola O. Baskerville, Secretary of Administration. “As one small business in the report stated, ‘eVA has been absolutely tremendous in leveling the playing field in order to keep the small businesses competitive with the very large businesses…. It is a life blood for small business in general.”

“Gov. Kaine has placed a high priority on supporting small businesses and operating efficiently to generate savings during these austere budget times,” said Richard F. Sliwoski, P.E., Director, Department of General Services. “eVA is a strong example of how the right technology can accomplish these objectives while bringing more accountability and transparency to government procurement.”

eVA has been awarded numerous accolades since its inception. Most recently the eVA program and Department of General Services, Division of Purchases and Supply, was recognized by eight public and private sector purchasing organizations as one of the winners of the 2009 Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award. Among other past awards the eVA Program has received are the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council Cost Effectiveness Through Government Award, National Association of State Procurement Officials’ Cronin Gold Award for Information Technology Innovations, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Planning and Accenture, Inc. State Government Innovator Award, eGov Magazine’s Government Services Administration Technology Trailblazer Award, and the Center for Digital Government Digital State Survey in the Electronic Commerce and Business Regulation Category ranked Virginia and eVA first in the country.

 

ACLU praises Newport News for action allowing tea party

At the urging of the ACLU of Virginia, Newport News city officials have granted a permit to the Hampton Roads Tea Party for a demonstration opposing health care reforms scheduled for tomorrow.

Organizers of the demonstration – scheduled for Friday in front of Congressman Robert C. Scott’s office – had been told that they must obtain $500,000 in liability insurance in order to receive a permit.

In a letter sent yesterday morning to Everett P. Skipper, Newport News’s Director of Engineering, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg said the city may not impose insurance requirements for use of a traditional public forum. Glenberg also noted other deficiencies in Newport News’s demonstration permit process, in particular the requirement that permit applications be submitted three weeks in advance of the date of the demonstration and the fact that one city official is given unlimited authority to decide who gets a permit and who does not.

Skipper responded to the ACLU’s request yesterday afternoon, writing that the demonstration permit would be issued without the insurance requirement and that his Department “will be in discussion with the City Attorney’s office regarding revisions to the ordinance and applications for similar events.”

“We are pleased that officials at Newport News responded so quickly and that the demonstration can now take place,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “All too often government officials forget that free speech, including the right to protest in a public place, is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Rules and regulations that impinge on free speech are allowed only in very limited circumstances.”

“We hope Newport News will use this opportunity to revisit their demonstration ordinance to bring it into compliance with First Amendment law,” added Willis.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter and Skipper’s response can be found online at http://www.acluva.org.  

  

Wednesday, July 15
State to hold Telework Day

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today joined Telework!VA and Telework Exchange in encouraging individuals and organizations to pledge to telework from home or a remote location on Telework Day – Monday, August 3, 2009. Employees and organization representatives across Virginia can visit www.teleworkexchange.com/teleworkday to sign up to telework, calculate the potential cost savings and environmental savings realized by teleworking, determine telework eligibility, and access additional telework-related resources.

“Telework is a family-friendly, business-friendly public policy that promotes workplace efficiency, reduces strain on transportation infrastructure, and provides an opportunity to ‘green’ Virginia,” Governor Kaine said. “We encourage organizations and individuals in Virginia to take the Telework Day pledge and see how telework can help them improve productivity and business operations, while also benefiting the environment.”

Telework Day follows on Governor Kaine’s June 10, 2009 executive order to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency at executive branch agencies and institutions. The goal of Telework Day is to encourage private employers to offer telework to their employees on this one day as a catalyst to drive more pervasive telework adoption across Virginia.

“Telework Day also provides a prime opportunity for organizations to test their business continuity plans,” said Karen Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Technology, Commonwealth of Virginia. “Telework allows employees to conduct work away from their primary workplace in the case of an emergency or natural disaster. We encourage organizations to ‘stress test’ their business continuity plan and infrastructure during Telework Day.”

Telework Exchange is a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the emerging educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community. The Telework!VA program was launched by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to help reduce the number of commuters on Virginia’s roadways. The program provides incentives for Virginia businesses to establish or expand telework programs for employees.

“Telework Day is an important opportunity to advocate telework as a business strategy that can have a positive impact on the bottom line and improve organizational efficiency, while at the same time reducing traffic on Virginia’s roads. Telework is one of the most effective ways for people to greatly reduce their work-related carbon footprint and demonstrate that ‘work is something you do, not a place you go,’” said Jennifer Thomas Alcott, Program Manager of Telework!VA.

“It is incumbent that businesses and government agencies support efforts to promote widespread adoption of telework,” said Cindy Auten, General Manager of Telework Exchange. “It’s now imperative that employees and managers alike take the next step and embrace the notion of telework. Telework Day provides that important opportunity.”

For more information on Telework Day, to make an individual pledge, or to make a pledge on behalf of an organization, visit www.teleworkexchange.com/teleworkday. The Commonwealth of Virginia, Telework!VA, and Telework Exchange will release a post-Telework Day report in August, highlighting the impact of Telework Day on Virginia organizations and constituents.   

  

Tuesday, July 14
Public Policy Virginia announces Community Power Initiative

Public Policy Virginia, a Charlottesville-based advocacy group, announced The Community Power Initiative this week. “We can save money on energy, begin to displace coal as a primary fuel source, and reinvigorate our agricultural communities,” said Al Weed, the group’s Chairman. The Community Power Initiative aims to stimulate the generation of electricity through a series of regionally-sized plants that use biomass as a fuel source. Because of the small size of the facilities, they could use a technology called Combined Heat and Power (CHP) for additional savings on energy bills.

Public Policy Virginia has focused their attention on the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative. “ODEC has a growing demand for electricity, which could be a great opportunity,” Weed said. ODEC has proposed a large coal-fired plant in Surry County. This proposal has been met with disapproval from Surry County residents and environmental groups. “The problems with the plant in Surry are not just environmental, they are also economical,” Weed asserted.

Public Policy Virginia says that there are growing limitations to coal. The energy bill being debated in Congress will institute carbon pricing, renewable energy standards, and mandatory carbon sequestration, making coal even more expensive then it is today. Incentives for alternative energy will make fuel like biomass less expensive.

Why biomass? Weed says biomass is the best solution for renewable base load energy, and will be particularly successful in Virginia because of the unique combination of woody biomass and the potential for fuels crops. “The wood left over every year from logging and milling could provide enough electricity to power over 140,000 homes and businesses. This is wood left over from trees already cut, just lying there with no use.” Weed continued, “And there is enough acreage to produce crops that could power over 300,000 additional homes and businesses.” He added that many rural communities in Virginia have seen declines in the value of their agricultural production in recent years.

The Community Power Initiative also touts the advantages of Combined Heat and Power, which will solve a long standing problem. “A plant like the one ODEC plans to build in Surry County gets only get 30-40% of the energy out of the fuel they burn. Think of all the energy we are wasting. This doesn’t have to be if we move to a new model of decentralized production. This technology is not new, it’s just underutilized because of the large scale of traditional plants.” Weed says that the heat created in electrical production can be used in industry; to create hot water for homes and offices; and heat commercial, industrial, or residential buildings in the winter and cool the same buildings in the summer. “This is one more way we will save money and reduce carbon emissions,” Weed said.

“The benefits of a clean energy economy are too many to list,” said Curt Gleeson, the Community Power Initiative Project Director. Gleeson continued, “Just think, farmers could sign long-term contracts with energy providers, ensuring consistent income for the farm, reliable fuel for the energy provider, and stable costs for the energy customer.”

“Best of all,” Weed concluded, “This plan will bring millions of stable dollars into our agricultural communities, create thousands of jobs, reduce our energy bills, have dramatic environmental benefits, and provide secure, renewable, reliable energy to our communities. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

For more information go to the Community Power Initiative website, http://www.ppvir.org/cpi-home.htm.

  

Monday, July 13
Grant will boost history lessons in Western Virginia schools

A $743,000 grant to a consortium of public schools, led by the Bedford County Public School System in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, will enhance the classroom teaching ability of 25 history teachers in underserved counties in Western Virginia. Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Teaching American History grant will establish a three-year program of history education seminars for social studies teachers of grades five through twelve from the seven school districts. The other districts are Alleghany, Bath, Craig, Giles, Highland and Pulaski.

The consortium is thankful for the letters of support that Gov. Tim Kaine, U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, and Congressmen Bob Goodlatte, Rick Boucher, and Tom Perriello provided for the application. Congressman Goodlatte said, “I believe that it is so important for young people today to have a better foundation in the history of the United States and the principles of our Constitution. The ‘American History in International Context’ program, which is being led by the Bedford County Public School System and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, will strengthen our teachers’ sense of American history which will then be passed along to our children.”

The program, entitled “American History in International Context,” will establish a professional development program for public school teachers in these school systems to master the traditional elements of United States history. Bedford County and the six other divisions in this consortium have never received or participated in a Teaching American History Grant. In addition, five schools within the consortium are in need of improvement as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. The resources that this grant provides will help meet the needs of these often underserved divisions.

The participating social studies teachers from Bedford and the six other divisions will take part in a three-year professional development program. The program will explore the full breadth of American history—from the first contact between natives and Europeans to the present—by focusing on critical intersections between the United States and the rest of the world. Each year, participants will meet for one-day workshops in the fall and the spring to discuss reading and written assignments. Each summer, the teachers will meet at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum for a week-long institute led by eminent visiting scholars. At the end of the summer, the participants will take part in a visit to a historic site, such as Jamestown, Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Participants will emerge from this experience with an expanded knowledge of American history that will translate to improvement in student performance across this consortium.

The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum is also involved in another Teaching American History program serving a different set of school districts, led by Waynesboro Public Schools. The first year of that three-year program will be completed this summer.


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