$20 million research grant is largest ever for UNMC


Will focus on clinical/translational research, developing early career researchers into independent scientists

Some of the steering committee members of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network

Some of the steering committee members of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network include: (left-right) Ted Mikuls, M.D., Ann Fruhling, Ph.D., Ashok Mudgapalli, Ph.D., Fang Yu, Ph.D., Jim McClay, M.D., Matt Rizzo, M.D., Mary Cramer, Ph.D., Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Ph.D., Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., and Karla Klaus. NOTE: Dr. Fruhling is from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. All others in the photo are from UNMC. Those UNMC steering committee members missing from the photo are: Paul Estabrooks, Ph.D., Lani (Chi Chi) Zimmerman, Ph.D., Jane Meza, Ph.D., and Babu Guda, Ph.D.

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

OMAHA, Neb. (Oct. 25, 2016)—A team of University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers headed by Matthew Rizzo, M.D., professor and chair of the department of neurological sciences, has landed the largest grant ever for UNMC – a five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health totaling nearly $20 million.

Funding is provided through the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program and the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Studies. It will focus on developing early career researchers into independent scientists and increasing the infrastructure and other resources needed to support clinical/translational research (CTR) around the region.

The grant will create the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network, a collaboration involving nine institutions in four states – Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas.

In addition to UNMC, the Nebraska institutions include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Boys Town National Research Hospital. Other participants include the University of South Dakota, University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, and the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“This is a huge accomplishment for our institution,” said Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. “It’s never easy to compete for a research grant of this magnitude. It represents years of hard work by lots of dedicated individuals. We couldn’t be more proud. This is truly a great day for UNMC and for our research partners.”

“We’ve been building clinical/translational research resources steadily for almost a decade to prepare us to compete for this or other large clinical/translational grant awards,” said Jennifer Larsen, M.D., vice chancellor for research. “Receiving this award shows we ‘have arrived,’ and the award itself will further expand the resources available for our faculty to continue to successfully compete on a national level.”

The grant will be particularly focused on expanding knowledge about approaches needed to address diseases of aging and brain health, Dr. Rizzo said.

“The states involved in our grant are rural states, so we will put extra emphasis on projects that will benefit people in rural areas or the medically underserved,” he said. “There is a strong aspect of community engagement. There are many good ideas that need to be studied. We can’t wait to get going and recruit our first class of scholars and launch our first pilot projects.”

A community engagement core group has been formed, Dr. Rizzo said. It is an interprofessional group that includes investigators from the colleges of medicine, nursing and public health at UNMC as well as researchers from the other participating institutions and the communities they serve.

“The goal of this grant is to help early career scientists to become independent and launch their own research programs,” Dr. Rizzo said. “We want to fill in the health gaps in the Great Plains area. We have unique needs. We have areas with relatively few people in big spaces, as well as medically underserved populations in urban areas.”

“This is all about improving the body of knowledge,” said Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of UNMC research and development and a professor of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience. “We do research that helps people. What that research will be is determined by the talented scientists at our participating institutions.”

UNMC’s largest previous grant – also from the NIH IDeA program – was a $17.2 million grant awarded in 2009 to James Turpen, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. The grant was renewed in 2015 for $16.2 million.

Institutional Development Award (IDeA)

The Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research.

The program fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions located in states in which the aggregate success rate for applications to NIH has historically been low.

The CTR program allows IDeA states to develop infrastructure and capacity to conduct clinical and translational research on diseases that are prevalent in their population. It is designed to focus on meeting the needs of unique populations such as rural and medically underserved communities.

The IDeA-CTR program increases the competitiveness of investigators by supporting faculty development and research infrastructure. It further provides for mentoring and career development activities in clinical and translational research.

Leadership team — Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network

University of Nebraska Medical Center

  • Matthew Rizzo, M.D., (principal investigator) professor and chair, neurological sciences, College of Medicine
  • Paul Estabrooks, Ph.D., professor and chair, health professions, societal and behavioral health, College of Public Health
  • Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., professor, pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, senior associate dean for research, College of Medicine
  • Mary Cramer, Ph.D., professor, College of Nursing
  • Ted Mikuls, M.D., professor, internal medicine – rheumatology, College of Medicine
  • Lani (Chi Chi) Zimmerman, Ph.D., professor, College of Nursing
  • Fang Yu, Ph.D., associate professor, biostatistics, College of Public Health
  • Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair, epidemiology, College of Public Health
  • Jane Meza, Ph.D., professor, biostatistics, senior associate dean, College of Public Health
  • Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., professor, environmental, agricultural and occupational health, College of Public Health
  • Dave Palm, Ph.D., associate professor, health services, research and administration, College of Public Health
  • Jim McClay, M.D., associate professor, emergency medicine, College of Medicine
  • Babu Guda, Ph.D., professor, genetics, cell biology & anatomy, director, Bioinformatics & System Biological Core Facility, College of Medicine
  • Ashok Mudgapalli, Ph.D., assistant professor, genetics, cell biology & anatomy, College of Medicine
  • Denise Britigan, Ph.D., assistant professor, health professions, societal and behavioral health, College of Public Health
  • Karla Klaus, program administrator, vice chancellor for research

University of Nebraska at Omaha

  •  Jeffrey French, Ph.D., professor, psychology and biology, and director of the neuroscience program
  • Ann Fruhling, Ph.D., professor of the College of Information Science and Technology and the founding director of the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics

University of Nebraska at Kearney

  •  Kimberly Carlson, Ph.D., professor, biology

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • Melanie Simpson, Ph.D., professor, biochemistry

Boys Town National Research Hospital

  • Walt Jesteadt, Ph.D., director of research and director Psychoacoustics Laboratory
  • Ryan McCreery, Ph.D., director, Center for Audiology, and director, Audibility, Perception and Cognition Lab

University of South Dakota

  • Robin Miskimins, Ph.D., associate dean, basic biomedical sciences, Sanford School of Medicine,

University of North Dakota

  • Jonathan Geiger, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics

North Dakota State University

  • Mark McCourt, Ph.D., professor, psychology, and director of Center for Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience
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