URI College of Pharmacy Ranked 18th in National Institutes of Health funding

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KINGSTON, R.I. – August 30, 2010 – The University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy ranked 18th in the country for the amount of National Institutes of Health research funding it attracted in 2009, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

URI’s $6.3 million in NIH research funding last year put it ahead of schools that have medical centers or medical schools, including The Ohio State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Connecticut and the University of Pittsburgh.

In the competition for research dollars, pharmacy schools benefit strongly from their relationships with their university medical centers and/or medical schools.

URI, which does not have a medical school, was one of 68 schools of pharmacy ranked by the association for the amount of NIH funding they received.

“I am pleased to see our research work accelerating even further this year, and I expect to continue the trajectory,” Jordan said. “We have a number of new NIH supported research efforts involving some of our newest faculty. I commend them for their hard work in advancing their important research. In this competitive funding environment, our faculty research achievements are truly extraordinary.”

For the past four years, the College of Pharmacy has also been ranked first in NIH funding among pharmacy schools across the country not affiliated with a university medical center or hospital, according to E. Paul Larrat, associate dean of the college.

Larrat said he expects the College to move into the top 10 nationally in total NIH funding among all pharmacy schools in 2010.

The foundation for the record-breaking 2009 was the $42 million in NIH grants awarded to URI from 2001 to 2009 to stimulate biomedical research at URI and six other Rhode Island colleges. That initiative included $2.7 million for a core laboratory at URI that is shared by biomedical scientists and students from the participating schools. The grant also allowed the College to hire young faculty members to work with senior researchers.

When support from corporations, the state legislature and the URI Foundation are added to the federal grant amounts, the College of Pharmacy reported a total of $7.86 million in external funding for fiscal year 2009 and $11.5 million in fiscal year 2010.

Nine years ago, external grants and contracts awarded to the College totaled $1.67 million.

In fiscal year 2010, the following divisions within the College brought in the most funding: pharmacology and toxicology, $6.3 million; pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics, $1.9 million and pharmacognosy and medicinal chemistry, $1.76 million.

“We focused our attention and helped our faculty members apply for grants, and our senior researchers have been passing down their knowledge about the process,” Larrat said. “We have excellent young scientists among our faculty, and they just need some assistance in negotiating the application process. Plus, our senior scientists take their mentoring roles very seriously.”

Among the young researchers benefiting from the College’s emphasis on building biomedical research capacity are:

• Assistant Professor Ruitang Deng, who was awarded a $289,000 NIH grant in April to investigate the role of estrogen in excessive bile acid accumulation in the liver. The objective is to develop research findings that will spur development of new drugs to treat or prevent certain disease conditions. According to Deng, excessive accumulation of bile acids in the liver can cause a variety of disease conditions, including those during pregnancy that pose significant risks to the fetus and childhood liver cancer in children with certain genetic defects.

• Associate Professor Brian J. Quilliam, who was awarded a $127,417 grant in November of 2009 by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, North America, to evaluate the incidence, risks and cost of hypoglycemia in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Quilliam said that although the treatment goal of anti-diabetic drug therapy is in fact lowering blood sugar, levels that are too low might be dangerous. The researcher said that despite numerous treatment advances and many new medicines, hypoglycemia remains a major problem encountered by people with diabetes. Hypoglycemic episodes can range from mild to even life threatening. In the study, Quilliam is identifying characteristics of people who are likely to develop hypoglycemic episodes and further estimate the costs associated with hypoglycemic events.

• Assistant Professor Angela Slitt, who was awarded a $485,000 NIH grant in September of 2009 to examine how diet and nutrition affect molecular mechanisms within the body, which aid in the clearance of Bisphenol A. Bisphenol A is a by-product of plastic manufacturing that has been linked to multiple adverse health effects in laboratory mice and rats, especially through fetal exposure during pregnancy and lactation. Slitt said discovering ways to decrease levels of BPA in the body would improve human health because such information would provide a way for people to counter potentially harmful environmental exposure. The NIH grant, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has allowed her to provide summer research experiences related to the research, including summer jobs for five high school and four undergraduate students, as well as two high school teachers, all but two from Rhode Island.