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NIH Awards $19.2 Million for Biomedical Research in Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska - National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni (zer-HOON-ee) today in Fairbanks announced the award of $19.2 million to the University of Alaska to accelerate and strengthen biomedical research activities throughout the state.

A $17.5 million award for the Alaska INBRE program, which stands for IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence, is the largest NIH award received by the university in its nearly 100 years of existence. Another $1.75 million grant is continuation funding for the Center for Alaska Native Health Research.

The announcement brings the total NIH commitment to fund biomedical research at the University of Alaska to more than $45 million.

“These awards provide unprecedented opportunities for the university to enhance its research infrastructure, as well as to create networks and partnerships within the state to develop collaborative scientific projects that benefit all the people of Alaska,” said Zerhouni. “These awards represent the outcome of a competitive, peer-reviewed process aimed at improving the biomedical research capacity throughout the United States,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens applauded the announcement. “I have been committed to strengthening the broad range of NIH research for many years,” he said.  “Alaska has many important health problems and has a lot to offer the nation in health research. I am gratified that Alaska is competing for and winning needed funds to conduct important health research.”

Alaska’s INBRE program, now in its third year, coordinates research and training efforts throughout the state focusing on health impacts of environmental contaminants and emerging infectious diseases. The NIH-funded Center for Alaska Native Health Research (CANHR) investigates weight, nutrition and health issues in Alaska Natives.

“NIH funding has allowed the university to attract top research faculty, support the ones we have and provide the technical support to move us forward in addressing health issues of vital concern to the state,” said UA President Mark Hamilton. “By leveraging the investment made by NIH, we’ve hired approximately a dozen research faculty, here in Fairbanks and in Anchorage, and we’re supporting a growing number of graduate students who are directly involved in activities aimed at improving the health of Alaskans and energizing state economic development,” Hamilton said.

Today’s NIH award announcement took place in the biomedical laboratories of the newly constructed West Ridge Research Building, the first biological research and instructional facility built on the UAF campus in 30 years. The 60,460 square-foot WRRB, located behind the Geophysical Institute on the UAF campus, houses research programs such as INBRE, CANHR and EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

External funding for research at the university has increased significantly with awards now totaling more than $130 million annually.  Using an entrepreneurial approach, WRRB was constructed in less than two years and addresses the severe space crunch resulting from the university’s success in obtaining federal dollars for new research projects, faculty and graduate students. About 20 percent of the total cost of the $15.2 million WRRB came from funds approved by voters with passage of a 2002 general obligation bond. The remaining 80 percent was funded through research activity.

UAF Chancellor Steve Jones said the building’s existence demonstrates the university’s commitment to finding space for its growing biomedical research programs and serves as a model for future growth.

“I join with President Hamilton in expressing my thanks to the director for visiting us and seeing first-hand the important role our institution has in advancing a national health agenda,” Jones said. “It also serves to cement our role in promoting an international understanding of the pivotal role of science in the Arctic.”

Multidisciplinary science teams in the areas of genomics, Native health, toxicology, environmental physiology, virology and neurosciences, coupled with bioinformatics, will enhance the university’s ability to secure continued research funding, Jones said.

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