Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap Profile: VCU

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is a premier urban, public research university. In 2013, U.S. News & World Report named VCU one of the nation's "up and coming" universities, recognizing its most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty, student life, campus, and facilities. VCU is made up of 13 schools and one college in downtown Richmond, with branch campuses in Doha, Qatar; Northern Virginia; Charles City County; and the Stony Point area of Richmond.

Through its strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, VCU works to meet the demands of diverse populations through impactful research, rigorous study, and extensive community engagement. The university enrolls the most diverse student body in Virginia, with more than 31,000 students, and offers 222 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, first-professional, and certificate programs.

Nationally, VCU ranks in the top 50 public research universities according to the Center for Measuring University Performance, in the areas of faculty awards, doctorates granted, and the number of postdoctoral trainees. Additionally, VCU is one of only 28 public universities with academic medical centers to be designated by the Carnegie Foundation as "Community Engaged" with "Very High Research Activity".

VCU's School of Engineering is recognized nationally as a major force in producing a talented and diverse array of graduates entering careers in STEM fields. VCU was ranked by The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) as the nation's No. 9 engineering school or university based on the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women. VCU was the only institution in Virginia to be ranked among the top ten in the ASEE's "Profiles of Engineering & Engineering Technology Colleges." VCU is a member of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems (CCALS).

Research Environment

VCU's sponsored programs support of its research enterprise has increased by approximately 35% in the past ten years, and FY2015 sponsored programs awards were $270 million -- an all-time high for the institution. Federal sources provide 58% of VCU's 2015 extramural funding. This federal portfolio has shown steady growth over the past several years and 2015 featured $88 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). VCU is ranked 84th in federal research expenditures by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Growth of the VCU research enterprise has been supported by an aggressive expansion of research space on both its Monroe Park and Medical Center campuses that began in the mid-1990s. Capital costs for this infrastructure addition have amounted to approximately $340 million and have resulted in a 40% increase in assignable square feet of research space. Significant additional research space construction is in the planning stages.

The VCU research enterprise supports student and faculty in a broad range of disciplines, including neuroscience, cancer research, genomics, microbiome science, drug development and pharmaceutical engineering, nanoscience and nanoengineering, clinical and translational research, interpretive arts, macroeconomics, public policy, and others. Centers and institutes of excellence also advance the university's research mission. The institution supports an array of shared research core labs, including the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry (the largest twin database in the world). It also operates VCU Rice Rivers Center, a research field station approximately halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg on the James River.

The VCU Office of Research and Innovation provides a full range of assistance and direction to faculty in securing extramural funding.

Research Strengths

VCU's research excellence has been buoyed by the commitment to interdisciplinary approaches, the university's investment in its research infrastructure, and the concomitant growth of the sponsored research budget. Selected areas of strengths and resources include the following.

Clinical and Translational Research

VCU's Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR) is the recipient of an NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), making VCU the first and only academic health center in Virginia to join a national consortium of more than 60 research centers so designated by the NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The VCU CCTR provides infrastructure and resources for interdisciplinary human health research. Through its core resources and services, the VCU CCTR encourages, engages, and supports collaborative participation of investigators and students throughout the university, community partners and volunteers in the Richmond region, and government organizations to work together on innovative research that transforms the scientific study of human health.


The VCU Massey Cancer Center is one of only two National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in the Commonwealth. Scientists collaborate on interdisciplinary research programs in five core areas: cancer cell signaling, cancer molecular genetics, cancer prevention and control, developmental therapeutics, and radiation biology and oncology.

Neurosciences: Parkinson's and Movement Disorder Research, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Substance Abuse

The VCU Parkinson's and Movement Disorders Center combines translational laboratory-based research, clinical evaluation and treatment, and education and outreach to provide a coordinated approach for developing strategies that combat movement disorders and neurodegenerative disorders.

The Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG) facilitates the development of a multidisciplinary, integrated research program in genetic epidemiology of psychiatric illness and human behavior. Part of the VIPBG facility is devoted to a molecular genetics laboratory, capable of high-throughput genotyping. VIPBG also houses state-of-the-art research and data analysis computational resources.

The VCU Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (VCU-CERSE) brings together researchers, clinicians, rehabilitation specialists, and academicians to promote research, education, physical medicine and rehabilitation services, and clinical care for America's veterans, children, and adults with disabilities. VCU-CERSE is home to the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, a federally-funded research program jointly sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This $62.5 million initiative is addressing the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury in military service personnel and veterans.

The VCU Institute on Drug and Alcohol Studies (IDAS) seeks to advance multidisciplinary research and training on the neuroscience of addictions and related neurobehavioral disorders. In collaboration with the Center for Clinical Translational Research (CCTR), IDAS supports the Collaborative Advanced Research Imaging (CARI) program. The CARI program uses cutting edge magnetic resonance imaging to study brain function in patients with neurobehavioral disorders, and houses one of the most state-of-the-art MRI scanners in Richmond that researchers from VCU are using to study a range of neurobehavioral disorders, from addictions, to the effects of liver disease on the brain, to traumatic brain injury. NIH grant funding in substance abuse and related areas exceeds $25 million annually, placing VCU among the top institutions in the U.S. in this research field.

The VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (VCU-RRTC) serves as a center of national excellence, providing resources for professionals, individuals with disabilities, and their representatives. VCU-RRTC researchers are committed to developing and advancing evidence-based practices to increase the hiring and retention for individuals with disabilities. Major areas of focus include traumatic brain injury, autism, as well as a wide variety of other disabilities. The VCU-RRTC is a recipient of a major grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

Engineering for Healthcare

VCU-CERSE's program in rehabilitation engineering focuses on design, development, and the use of state-of-the-art human technology interfaces in the operation of assistive technologies, including eye- and head-tracking controls, motion-activated controls, voice-activated controls, and related activities.

The VCU School of Engineering houses the Institute for Engineering and Medicine, the Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center, and the Nanomaterials Characterization facility, as well as the Translational Research Innovation Projects facility.

The cross-disciplinary faculty in the School of Engineering collaborate with medical, dental, and pharmacy faculty in orthopedic biomechanics, biomaterials, cellular mechanics and tissue engineering, cardiac electrophysiology, artificial heart technologies, medical imaging, aerosol particle drug delivery, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and rehabilitation engineering.

A major new initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is in the development of innovative pharmaceutical engineering methods. This initiative seeks inexpensive and more efficient ways to manufacture drugs, particularly those needed to treat NIH and AIDS in developing countries.

Life Sciences

The VCU Center for the Study of Biological Complexity supports research in integrative molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. It also develops and supports critical infrastructure and core capabilities at VCU in genomics, proteomics, and computational systems biology and bioinformatics. Areas of research focus include microbial biology and pathogenesis, gene networks in cell biology and cellular control mechanisms, and structural biology.

The VCU Inger and Walter Rice Rivers Center provides a site for VCU researchers, as well as scientists from other institutions and agencies, to conduct research on a wide variety of topics, such as the science and policy of large rivers and their fringing riparian and wetland landscapes.

VCU Innovation Gateway

The VCU Innovation Gateway's mission is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship at the university, facilitate commercialization of university inventions, and support regional economic development and new venture creation.

To support the implementation of the VCU strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, VCU Innovation Gateway has broadened its mission and activities. The office is not only responsible for facilitating the commercialization of VCU research, but is now committed to enhancing the overall culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at VCU and contributing to the growth of the region's innovation ecosystem.

The main functions of the Innovation Gateway are:

  • Technology commercialization
  • Industry collaborations
  • Entrepreneurship and new ventures
  • Economic development

IVCU Venture Creation University, or VCU Squared, is VCU's strategy for enhancing the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the university. This university-wide strategy aims to build pathways to develop and support the entrepreneurial talent of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It focuses on transforming thinkers into creators and turning opportunities into economic value. The resulting activities will help fuel economic growth and enhance quality of life for the Greater Richmond region and the Commonwealth.

Other Notable Achievements

In 2015, VCU and VCU Health System launched a new brand identify -- VCU Health. The centerpiece of VCU Health is Virginia's most comprehensive academic medical center offering state-of-the-art education in five different health sciences schools, and state-of-the-art patient care in more than 200 specialties. VCU Health's VCU Medical Center serves as the major regional referral center and is the region's only Level 1 Trauma Center and the only Level 1 Trauma Center for pediatrics in the Commonwealth. In the 2015-16 U.S. News & World Report's Best Hospitals rankings report, VCU Medical Center was recognized as the No. 1 hospital in Virginia and the Richmond area. Also in 2015, Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU was ranked by U.S. News' 2015-16 Best Children's Hospital rankings as 48th in Nephrology. VCU Medical Center was selected as the recipient of the prestigious AHA-McKesson Quest for Quality Prize in 2014. This award recognized VCU Medical Center for its sustainable and widely adopted approach to achieve the Institute of Medicine's six quality aims for safe, effective, efficient, timely, patient-centered, and equitable healthcare.