URI awarded $6 million federal grant to stimulate biomedical research in RI

URI awarded $6 million federal grant
to stimulate biomedical research in RI
2 College of Pharmacy biomedical professors credited
with setting up first-ever statewide network

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 12, 2001 — For the first time in Rhode Island’s history, researchers from six universities and colleges will collaborate to advance biomedical research as a result of a $6 million federal grant awarded to the University of Rhode Island from the National Institutes of Health.

The University was selected by NIH’s National Center for Research Resources to develop a statewide network of biomedical researchers to compete for National Institutes of Health grants and to increase the biomedical research manpower in the state. The network will draw from such disciplines as toxicology, pharmacology, chemistry, biology, pathology, psychology, computer science, mathematics, biomedical engineering and physical education.

The network established by the NIH’s Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network grant program consists of thirty-seven faculty members from URI, Rhode Island College, the Brown Medical School, Roger Williams University and Bryant and Providence Colleges. Senior faculty from URI and Brown will serve as mentors for junior faculty focusing on various biomedical research topics. Twenty-one URI faculty members provide the backbone for the project team. Including staff and students, the total number of individuals involved in the network may reach 100.

“At a time when the states economy is challenged, this investment in building scientific infrastructure is very welcome,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “Were very proud of the faculty at URI and around the state for their leadership.”

“The awarding of this grant represents tremendous confidence in our ability to foster cutting-edge research in the biomedical sciences and the positive outcomes that can be achieved through collaborative efforts in such endeavors,” said Donald E. Letendre, dean of URI’s College of Pharmacy.

“It underscores the capabilities of our faculty who will serve as mentors as we strive to build a strong network of researchers in the biomedical arena,” Letendre added. “Ultimately, our efforts to pursue high quality education and research programs benefit the citizens of the state through advances in health care delivery.”

W. Fred Taylor, director of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program for the National Center for Research Resources at NIH, said that these network grants are tailored to the specific needs of each state. “One of the main goals of the program is to provide paths to research careers in the biomedical sciences,” Taylor said. “Many students don’t have an understanding of the career options in biomedical sciences.”

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, including Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Immunex Corp., 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.

“With this program, we are seeing increased cooperation among the participating colleges, and that is important because we have to leverage our resources to meet the goals we have,” Taylor said.

He said URI was awarded the grant because it developed a “meritorious plan to bring the state together.”

Professor Zahir A. Shaikh, chair of URI’s Department of Biomedical Sciences in its College of Pharmacy, and Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Nasser H. Zawia are the director and assistant director, respectively, of the three-year project.

“The grant will provide faculty at URI and other colleges an excellent opportunity to not only strengthen their existing links, but also to build a broader network of biomedical researchers within Rhode Island,” Shaikh said.

Investigators will study such topics as:
chemical carcinogenesis (cancer generation)
reproductive toxicity of environmental chemicals
regulation of drug and toxicant metabolism
computer modeling of cardiac and neuronal functions
identification of novel natural products for disease treatment
behavior modification to reduce cancer and other health risks
“Undergraduates will be heavily involved because we need to develop a highly educated labor force to work in Rhode Island’s expanding pharmaceutical and biomedical science industries,” Zawia said.

The grant will also establish a central research instrumentation facility at URI that will be open to those within and outside the grant network and will serve as a resource for the state to further biomedical research. Researchers will have access to state-of-the-art equipment under the supervision of trained operators. The new facility will be housed in Fogarty Hall, the home of the College of Pharmacy.

In addition to a centralized facility at URI, researchers will have access to research laboratories at Brown.

Both junior faculty and students will be trained to do cutting-edge science that will augment the states efforts in creating an environment attractive to high tech companies, resulting in economic development.

Research by the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network formed by URI will:

1. Result in a better understanding of cancer induced chemically and
by ultraviolet rays and the treatments for such diseases.

2. Shed more light on how environmental chemicals damage male reproductive potential

3. Lead to the engineering of new instruments that could be used for the study of cardiovascular function

4. Develop simulation software to mimic brain neural networks

5. Discover natural products in the environment that may be used for therapeutic purposes

6. Modify behaviors that increase the risks from smoking, alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases

For Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116