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New Mexico universities receive $16.5 million for biomedical research

A program based at New Mexico State University has received $16.5 million to continue developing biomedical research programs in New Mexico.


e-year grant will enable universities throughout New Mexico to continue work that was started in 2001 with the creation of the New Mexico Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (NM-BRIN). This program was funded by the National Institutes of Health to strengthen biomedical research at New Mexico's institutions of higher education and prepare faculty and students to participate in NIH research programs.

The BRIN program is headquartered at NMSU and directed by Jeffrey Arterburn, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Other institutions participating in the program, which has been renamed the New Mexico IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NM-INBRE), include the University of New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico Highlands University, and the non-profit National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe.

The original BRIN grant funded the mentoring and research of 12 young faculty members from the participating universities. Funding these faculty members, in turn, exposed more than 100 college students to biomedical research careers. The original grant also enabled participating universities to upgrade their biomedical research facilities. NMSU, for example, built a new cell culture facility for its biology department and a laboratory that enables researchers in biology, chemistry and physics to study the structure of biomedically relevant molecules.

The new grant will fund the mentoring and research of 17 new faculty members at the participating universities. Research projects will focus on three areas: understanding the molecular structure and function of proteins that mediate critical cellular processes; learning more about complex processes such cell division that can cause disease if they go awry; and understanding pathogens that cause diseases and could be used for bioterrorism.

Another focus of the grant is to build the state's expertise in bioinformatics. Brook Milligan of NMSU is leading this initiative, along with researchers from the National Center for Genome Resources.

Researchers from New Mexico State University who will be funded by the new grant are Brad Shuster, whose mentor is Lynne Cassimeris of Lehigh University; John Gustafson, whose mentor is Brian Wilkinson of Illinois State University; Kathryn Hanley, whose mentor is Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; and William Lott, whose mentor is David Peabody of UNM. New Mexico State University will receive a total of $5.5 million over the next five years as a result of the NM-INBRE program.

Researchers from the University of New Mexico who will be funded by the new grant are John Engen, whose mentor is Chris Enke of UNM; David Faguy, whose mentor is Mary Ann Osley of UNM; Chien-an Andy Hu, whose mentor is Jeffrey Griffith of UNM; and Thomas Resta, whose mentor is Benjimen Walker of UNM. The University of New Mexico will receive more than $3 million over the next five years as a result of the NM-INBRE program.

Researchers from Eastern New Mexico University who will be funded by the new grant are Newton Hilliard, whose mentor is Robert Shaw from Texas Tech University; Zhiming Liu, whose mentor is Reynaldo Patino of Texas Tech; Nicholas Wright, whose mentor is Don Partridge of UNM; and Manuel Varela, whose mentor is Jeffrey Griffith of UNM. Eastern New Mexico University will receive a total of $2 million over the next five years as a result of the NM-INBRE program.

Researchers from New Mexico Highlands University who will be funded by the new grant are James Huntley, whose mentor is Jane Dyson of the Scripps Research Institute; and Carol Linder, whose mentor is Mary Ann Handel of the Jackson Laboratory. New Mexico Highlands University will receive a total of $2 million over the next five years as a result of the NM-INBRE program.

Researchers from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology who will be funded by the new grant are Alexander Kornienko, whose mentor is Patrick Mariano of UNM; Wim Steelant, whose mentor is Sen-Itiro Hakomori of the Pacific Northwest Research Institute; and Snezna Rogelj, who mentor is Thomas Kieft of New Mexico Tech. New Mexico Tech will receive a total of $2 million over the next five years as a result of the NM-INBRE program.

Arterburn said the purpose of the program is to develop young researchers to the point that they can compete for their own funding.

"Many of these faculty work at institutions where there are no mentors available in their area of interest," Arterburn said.

Another purpose of the program, Arterburn said, is to bring together students and faculty members throughout New Mexico who are interested in biomedical research.

"Before this program, researchers were isolated at their own institutions and there was no mechanism to bring them together," he said.

In addition to funding a yearly conference and regular videoconferences, the program pays for top faculty members to give lectures at institutions across the state, including three tribal colleges. Research projects funded by the program are ones that program leaders believe will extend the state's expertise in areas such as cancer and diseases emerging along the border.

"We're building up a much more effective group of scientists who can work together and compete for large grants," Arterburn said. "And we have people doing real research and solving real health problems that can translate into other economic benefits."