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Faculty members receive grant funding from NCInnovation for mosquito-borne infectious disease identification

Brian Bryd research grant

Brian Byrd (center), professor of environmental health sciences, and Scott Huffman, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, have been awarded a grant from NCInnovation.

By Julia Duvall

Brian Byrd, Western Carolina University’s mosquito expert and professor in the environmental health sciences program, along with Scott Huffman, professor in WCU’s Department of Chemistry and Physics, have been approved for grant funding from NCInnovation to continue their work in developing tools that utilizes spectroscopy to analyze vibrational signals from mosquitoes.

“Using spectroscopy, we are developing tools that analyze chemical signals from mosquitoes to tell us the species, sex, age of the mosquitoes and if they are infected,” Byrd said. “Using our approach, we can rapidly assess the risk of infection in the Aedes mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever and Zika. There is a similar Aedes mosquito in Western North Carolina that transmits La Crosse virus causing encephalitis in children every year, so this tool gives us a platform to improve risk assessments and opportunities to reduce human disease.”

Currently it takes days or weeks to conduct this type of risk assessment, but the approach Byrd and Huffman are developing will make the work much quicker and more efficient.

“Dr. Byrd and Dr. Huffman’s award from NC Innovation is a testament to the exemplary dedication to teaching and applied research by the outstanding faculty at Western Carolina University,” WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said. “We are confident that this announcement will serve as a catalyst for additional innovative exploration by our faculty as we strive to bolster economic condition in Western North Carolina and indeed the entire state. I would like to thank the General Assembly for supporting exciting, applied research underway here at WCU and across the UNC System.”

The grant approval is conditioned on standard next steps, including executed grant agreements and formal notification to government partners. The funding is part of NCInnovation’s larger mission to unlock the innovative potential of North Carolina’s world-class universities.

“We are consistently blown away by the applied research innovations coming out of North Carolina’s public universities,” said Michelle Bolas, NCInnovation executive vice president and chief innovation officer. “Dr. Byrd’s and Dr. Huffman’s work has promising applications throughout the state and country and we’re excited to watch this research continue to develop.”

NCInnovation helps university innovations advance towards commercialization by supporting university applied research through the critical R&D phase between proof concept and readiness for the private market.

 The grant funding approved for Byrd is part of NCInnovation’s larger effort to support the development and commercialization of university research in North Carolina. The campus-to-industry pipeline has been the foundation of American innovation for decades. For more information, visit

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