URI receives $18 million grant to strengthen biomedical research capacity in Rhode Island

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Total funding for program since 2001 tops $42 million

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 20, 2009 – The University of Rhode Island has been awarded a five-year, $18 million grant by a branch of the National Institutes of Health to strengthen biomedical research capacity in Rhode Island. One of the largest grants in the University’s history, the grant is the third in a series of multi-million dollar awards the agency has given URI for this purpose since 2001, for a total of $42 million.

The grant was awarded to URI’s College of Pharmacy by NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, the same agency that awarded the University $8 million in 2001 and an additional $16.5 million in 2004. The earlier grants established a research network that resulted in the acquisition of key laboratory equipment and scientific collaborations among researchers at URI, Brown University, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Salve Regina University, and Roger Williams University. The program also reaches out to the Community College of Rhode Island for student training.

“Collaborative, multidisciplinary learning is a hallmark of the research and education experience here at URI, and this biomedical research program is a prime example of how successful this approach to problem solving can be,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “The tremendous growth of this initiative and the exciting results it has already generated are a testament to the strength of our College of Pharmacy and the network it has built with other institutions around the state.”

“During the next five years, this new funding will support biomedical and behavioral science research projects of at least 22 faculty from the network institutions,” said Zahir Shaikh, URI professor of biomedical sciences and the principal investigator and program director for the grants since its inception.

The research focus of the new grant, entitled the Rhode Island Network for Excellence in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, will be on molecular toxicology, cell biology and behavioral science.

“The first two thematic areas were chosen because a majority of the projects supported by the grant fall in these scientific disciplines,” said Bongsup Cho, URI professor of biomedical sciences who will assist Shaikh in coordinating the research activities. “The behavioral science focus was added to allow an even greater number of faculty and students from the primarily undergraduate institutions to participate in the program.”

The grant will be administered through URI’s Center for Molecular Toxicology.

In addition to providing funds for acquiring state-of-the-art equipment and bioinformatics resources for research in these disciplines, the grant will also fund the recruitment and training of undergraduate and graduate students for careers in the biomedical and biotechnology fields, and continue faculty development and mentoring opportunities. During the past eight years, the program has been instrumental in the hiring of new faculty at all participating institutions, thus expanding the biomedical research and training base of the state.

The University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program, launched as part of the 2001 grant, will also be expanded to provide biomedical and behavioral research training to about 65 undergraduate students who are either enrolled at Rhode Island colleges and universities or are residents of the state.

According to Shaikh, the grant will also allow for an increase in the number of graduate students entering URI, Brown and Rhode Island College. It will also fund a new outreach program that will provide opportunities for high school teachers and students to participate in faculty research during the summer.

“These grants have accelerated research in the biomedical arena within Rhode Island,” said URI College of Pharmacy Dean Ron Jordan. “This sector of our economy will bear more fruit in the next several years as the state moves toward a knowledge based economy that will leverage this great higher education research, our highly qualified Rhode Island health delivery institutions, and new information and biological technologies emanating from multiple colleges at URI and our partner institutions. The new grant ensures that the underlying workforce and intellectual development needed in these areas will continue, and it positions our College of Pharmacy to play a key role in advancing the state’s agenda.”

The $42 million that URI has received since 2001 has come through the federal IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence program, which is tasked with building biomedical research capacity in states that have historically received low funding for research from NIH. Rhode Island is one of 23 states and Puerto Rico that qualify to compete for this funding.

The earlier grants supported 45 faculty research projects at network institutions. Research support during the past five years has so far led to the awarding of nearly $15 million in additional grants from NIH, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the American Cancer Society, among others. The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council also awarded $3 million in collaborative grants in which 18 network faculty members participated.

In addition, the earlier grants funded the renovation and expansion of research laboratories and student training facilities throughout the state; provided video conferencing capabilities at network institutions to aid in collaborative research and interactive participation in seminars and workshops; and during the past five years provided partial support for the training of 10 postdoctoral fellows, 45 graduate students and more than 300 undergraduate students in the state. The new grant will allow these training activities to continue and expand the state’s biomedical and biotechnological workforce.