Clinical and Digital Health awarded $550,000 grant to help spark public health innovation

Researchers at the Clinical and Digital Health Sciences Department at Augusta University, in collaboration with, received a prestigious grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to bring innovation to public health.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dr. Gianluca De Leo and Dr. Vahé Heboyan with Augusta University’s College of Allied Health Sciences were awarded a $550,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help startups in midsized communities collaborate to solve public health problems through innovation. The project is in collaboration with, a nonprofit innovation center.

“If we want to bring the research that we conduct at Augusta University to reality, we need to get involved with people in our communities,” said Dr. Gianluca De Leo, chair of the Clinical and Digital Health Sciences Department. “They can help us identify the public health problems, and we can help them find solutions and funding. By working together, we can help health startups succeed.”

Innovation and entrepreneurship most often happens in places where there is a critical mass of resources and institutions, where smaller cities often struggle to create and maintain innovation cultures. With the grant, the Clinical and Digital Health Sciences Department and will be able to create a mesh network of five midsize communities in the Southeast to promote and implement scalable innovations to help improve public health. The goal is to increase health startup activities in those communities and help those businesses conduct research, get funds and scale up.

“A mesh network provides a unique communications framework that allows all the communities within that network to increase data sharing efficiency, which will improve partnership and investment opportunities between cities. Our thought was that if we can organize these communities to work together, we can make each community stronger,” co-founder Eric Parker said. “We hope we can grow this network to include all midsize communities in the South and help their health startups grow. Through that, we hope we can improve the public health of those communities.

This grant will also allow the College of Allied Health Sciences to offer a health innovation certificate, providing people who have an innovative health startup idea with the knowledge to pursue it. Skills taught in the courses will include grant-writing, business management, economic feasibility and research techniques. Students, faculty and community members will be able to register for the courses beginning in Fall 2017.

“When it comes to fostering innovation, large cities are advantaged by the concentration of resources and population they have,” said Paul Tarini, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We hope that connecting a group of mid-sized cities through a mesh network in collaboration with Augusta University will create a similar—virtual—concentration of resources and people which produces innovative start-ups that reflect the needs of the region.”

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Written by
Arthur Takahashi

Arthur Takahashi is Digital Media Coordinator at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706–446–5128 or

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Written by Arthur Takahashi

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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