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Department of Communications/
News Bureau

22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

URI College of Pharmacy opens $2 million
biomedical research laboratory today

Central facility part of network involving scientists at 7 R.I. colleges

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 10, 2003 -- As part of a $7.6 million federal grant to stimulate biomedical research across the state, the lead institution, the University of Rhode Island, today opened a $2 million core laboratory.

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri joined Lt. Gov. Charles J. Fogarty, URI President Robert L. Carothers, URI Provost M. Beverly Swan, URI College of Pharmacy Dean Donald E. Letendre, URI Professor Zahir A. Shaikh, director of the initiative, and URI Professor Nasser A. Zawia, assistant director, in ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the laboratory at URI’s College of Pharmacy.

The Centralized Research Core Facility provides researchers with the latest analytical equipment to investigate such areas as cancer generation, the effects of toxic chemicals on reproduction, drug metabolism, and the identification of natural health products. Much of the equipment will also be used in proteomics, which is the study of proteins -- the building blocks of life. By examining proteins, which run the internal machinery of the cell, scientists can determine how a cell is altered in a disease state or when exposed to a toxin.

Proteomics is a research field that is complementary to genomics, which has led to the sequencing and decoding of human DNA.

The statewide initiative, called the Rhode Island Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network, is housed in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at URI’s College of Pharmacy. With URI as the lead institution, the network has now grown to include 46 researchers, with more than 100 individuals working on a variety of projects. Other participating institutions are Brown University, Rhode Island College, Providence College, Bryant College, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University.

When URI applied for additional federal funding to bring the grant total to $7.6 million, institutions from 23 states and Puerto Rico applied. URI was one of only 10 to receive supplementary funding.

The lab is the only facility in the state where scientists from the network and those outside the network, including those at hospitals and biomedical science companies, have access to a wide variety of cutting-edge equipment in one central facility.

"We all know that Rhode Island is home to nationally renowned researchers," said Gov. Carcieri. "That’s one of our state’s competitive advantages. Now we’re capitalizing on that. Not only will this program bolster our research capabilities, but it will fuel our economy by ensuring that we have the skilled work force for this growing sector of the economy. Since I took office, I’ve continued to push for facilities such as this one so that we’ll have a ready-made work force for the biotechnology companies we are trying to attract to our state."

In offering his welcoming remarks, URI President Robert L. Carothers said, "The opening of this laboratory today marks a historic day for the state and seven of its colleges and universities," said URI President Robert L. Carothers. "Never before have so many Rhode Island institutions of higher education come together to conduct research in areas of critical importance to our citizens’ health. And now they can gather in one place to work with some of the most powerful biomedical research tools now available. To all of our partners, we extend a warm welcome, and we wish them all much success."

Located in URI’s Fogarty Hall, the facility includes cell sorting equipment, a cell culture facility that will allow researchers to grow their own cells in a germ-free environment, two high performance liquid chromatography systems for isolating and purifying compounds or identifying and quantifying compounds, a cell sorter unit and a molecular modeling station that allows scientists to view and manipulate complex molecules and cell proteins.

"This statewide initiative is in one sense about research, but it’s also about service, teaching and collaboration," said Provost Swan, also the vice president for academic affairs. "URI is serving as the lead institution, but we are strengthened in our ability to contribute to society by the collaboration of our colleagues. Professors Zahir Shaikh and Nasser Zawia had the vision to propose bringing scientists together from these remarkable schools in Rhode Island. They understood that this synergy would be an effective approach to create new ways of problem solving. We are proud of their initiative, their skill and their leadership in the scientific community."

Letendre, the pharmacy dean, said the lab opening provides concrete evidence of the University’s and the cooperating schools’ commitment to prepare researchers for the burgeoning biomedical science field. "We have talented, committed scientists at URI and at all our Rhode Island colleges. This lab provides the essential tools for them to delve into some of the most important biomedical mysteries of the day. They will be able to work in a healthy, robust and most importantly collaborative research environment because our grant directors, Drs. Shaikh and Zawia, have assembled components that are central to achieving researchers’ goals."

The original grant, awarded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources in the fall of 2001, is designed to stimulate biomedical research and develop a cadre of junior scientists that could better compete for NIH grants.

"We are also using this grant to educate the biomedical science work force of the future," Professor Shaikh said. "We are involving undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the research. They will work alongside junior and senior research faculty at each of the institutions.

"We purchased smaller equipment for individual labs, with the understanding that the more expensive and more powerful equipment would be shared by network members in a central facility."

Facility staff members, Aftab Ahmed, lab manager, and Rebecca Pitts, lab technician, are available to analyze samples and to assist in the operation of the instruments.

According to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., there are 99 biotechnology and biomedical firms in Rhode Island employing more than 3,400 individuals. The companies range from large pharmaceutical companies with operations in the state, such as Amgen, to smaller businesses involved in biomedical research, biomedical engineering, manufacturing of medical devices and supplies, and firms that make packaging to handle medical and hazardous wastes.

"This is going to be a very busy facility, and all of us can’t wait to get in there," URI Assistant Professor Roberta S. King, a member of the network, said. "We’ve chosen the instruments that we really need to advance biomedical research." She’ll be investigating the very earliest steps in the formation of breast, colon and liver cancer.

Bongsup Cho, URI professor of biomedical sciences and core facility co-coordinator, said with new cell sorter technology, "Now we can follow how the cell functions in a step by step way."

Professor Shaikh will use the cell sorter to examine toxicity of metals. Examples include metal toxicity in relation to kidney cell death, and the effects of eating shellfish, which contain metals.

"We have all the equipment here to do tissue culture work," said Ahmed, the lab manager. "We have integrated chemistry and biology in this lab."

For Further Information: Zahir Shaikh 401-874-5036

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