By L.M. Sixel
Neuroscientist Jon Pierce-Shimomura, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, needed some special mice for a research project on alcohol addiction but the costs weren’t in his budget.
So he turned to crowdfunding, fundraising efforts via online platforms used by everyone from startups to charities.
Universities are also getting into the game.
UT’s 2-year-old HornRaiser crowdfunding platform brought in $13,148 last month, enough for him to buy a couple of custom-made super mice to breed so he has enough rodents for his research on alcohol addiction.
Pierce-Shimomura has identified a molecule in microscopic worms that triggers intoxication and the effects of withdrawal, and wanted to genetically alter the same molecule in mice to determine if it has the same effect. It might point to a regimen for treating human addicts by eliminating craving sensations.
“This isn’t esoteric research,” he said. But the two genetically altered mice cost $12,000, big money for a lab that depends mostly on funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Pierce-Shimomura wrote a script and recruited his students to appear in a university-produced video about the “Mutant Mouse that Cannot Get Drunk.” The project was featured in a HornRaiser campaign.
Universities have relied on crowdfunding for replacement cheerleading uniforms, travel expenses for ballroom dance competitions and research equipment not covered by federal grants. They are relying on some of the same techniques entrepreneurs, performing artists and social service groups have used to raise millions of dollars in small donations for more than a decade.
Showcases for universities
The solicitations, which by nature require contact with large groups of people, create new ways for universities to showcase their contributions to the community while attracting donors not drawn to a traditional capital campaign or to the establishment of a scholarship fund.