Delaware partnership wins $17.4-million NIH grant to build state's biomedical research capacity
UD President Patrick Harker holds up the 5-inch-thick winning grant proposal, which he said is valued at about $16,000 per page.
David Weir, director of UD's Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships: "Our new INBRE grant will help build a new generation of health researchers for the 21st century workforce, to improve the health of the citizens of Delaware and expand health-based economic development in the state."
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell: "We're at our best in Delaware when we form partnerships like this one."
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9:56 a.m., April 28, 2009----Delaware took another major step toward expanding human health research with the official announcement April 27 of a new five-year, $17.4-million grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The announcement was attended by more than 50 representatives of the six institutions -- Christiana Care Health System, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical & Community College, Nemours/A. I. duPont Hospital for Children, the University of Delaware, and Wesley College -- that partnered to win the grant.

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“Congratulations to all of the members of this collaboration,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. “I always say that we're at our best in Delaware when we form partnerships like this one, where a large number of institutions have joined forces to obtain this federal grant. It's what I believe will be critical to Delaware's long-term success.”

“This announcement caps years of work among all of us here to put Delaware on the biomedical map and create an integrated research infrastructure joining the state's academic and medical institutions,” said UD president Patrick Harker. “Delaware just keeps growing in the sectors that breed 21st century prominence and prosperity.”

The partnership program, the Delaware IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) is led by the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) at the University of Delaware. The new INBRE funding is aimed at developing the state's biomedical research capacity in the target areas of cancer, cardiovascular and neuroscience research. The award begins May 1.

DBI, a major research center for the life sciences at the University of Delaware, drove the development of the successful proposal. The institute also managed the first INBRE program grant, awarded by NIH in 2002, which, among its accomplishments, catalyzed formation of the Delaware Center for Translational Cancer Research and the hiring of 50 new life sciences faculty across the state's academic and medical institutions.

“Our new INBRE grant will help build a new generation of health researchers for the 21st century workforce, to improve the health of the citizens of Delaware and expand health-based economic development in the state,” said David Weir, founding director of DBI and leader of the INBRE effort. Weir was appointed director of UD's Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships last year.

The new effort will encompass cancer, cardiovascular and neuroscience research programs; four new research centers--in bioinformatics, clinical outcomes research, cardiovascular research and neurosciences; and four new Ph.D. programs--in neurosciences, biomolecular science and engineering, bioinformatics and computational systems biology, and cardiovascular research. The program will provide funding for 80 graduate students and 150 undergraduate researchers throughout the state.

It follows on the heels of the announcement of the new Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, a coalition to provide leadership in health and health services, including Christiana Care Health System, Nemours, Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Delaware. The alliance was announced during the “Stronger Health-Based Partnerships” conference at UD on March 24.

The cancer research program will focus on cancer cell mobility and the role of specific proteins in metastasis, DNA repair, computer-based tools for simulation and early diagnosis of cancer, and biomaterials for use in cancer treatments.

Dr. Nicholas Petrelli, Bank of America Endowed Medical Director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care Health System and professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University, will serve as program director for the cancer program. Petrelli is a national leader in the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers and chairs the state's Science & Technology Council's Human Health Subcommittee.

Additionally, the Delaware Center for Translational Cancer Research will play a central role. A collaboration of UD, Christiana Care's Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Nemours Center for Childhood Cancer Research, the center is directed by Mary C. Farach-Carson and Robert Sikes in the Department of Biological Sciences at UD, and Petrelli and Bruce Boman at the Graham Center.

The cardiovascular research program will focus on the effect of kidney function on cardiovascular events, extra-cellular matrix remodeling in heart failure and biomaterials for cardiac tissue engineering.

Ulhas Naik, professor of biological sciences at the University of Delaware, will serve as program director of the cardiovascular program and direct a new cardiovascular research center to be developed at UD. Partnering in the effort will be Christiana Care Health System's Center for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research, led by Dr. William Weintraub, chief of cardiology.

The neuroscience research program will address molecular mechanisms of learning and memory, spinal muscular atrophy, and cardiovascular autonomic nerve function in diabetes. A major goal will be to establish a new center for brain disease and translational neurosciences.

The neuroscience program will be directed by Melissa Harrington, associate professor of biology and director of biomedical research at Delaware State University. Harrington serves on the Delaware Science & Technology Council's Human Health Subcommittee and has been a leader in establishing the Delaware Neuroscience Consortium.

“In addition to the three research programs, core administrative, bioinformatics and research instrumentation programs will be enhanced to support them, and 150 undergraduate research stipends will be established, providing opportunities for future scientists from across the state,” said Karl Steiner, associate provost for interdisciplinary research initiatives and co-principal investigator on the INBRE grant.

“The award launches another phase in our growing statewide partnership to build a biomedical research capability,” Weir noted. “Our thanks go to everyone associated with the program. Without their skill, dedication, and hard work, this renewal would not have been possible.”

U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, who was unable to attend the event, sent his congratulations. “The receipt of this $17 million grant serves as another important milestone in Delaware's growth as a center of excellence for healthcare and biomedical research,” he said. “This effort is especially important as it combines the strengths of many institutions throughout our state as they work together to solve some our nation's most pressing health problems.”

Barbara M. Alving, director of the NIH National Center for Research Resources referred to Delaware's INBRE program as being “at the forefront in developing a cyberinfrastructure network to address bioinformatics needs and applications to advance biomedical sciences.”

“This award will help advance research to combat diseases including cancer, heart and neurological disease -- research that may lead to improved health within the state and far beyond its borders,” she said. “Through the power of shared resources, INBRE awards expand research opportunities and create a pipeline of competitive investigators crucial for the 21st century workforce.”

Fifteen developmental research projects will be supported in the first year of Delaware’s INBRE renewal program. To access the list, click here.

Article by Tracey Bryant and Diane Kukich
Photos by Duane Perry

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