Public Release: 

University of New Hampshire launches biomedical research network with $5.6 million grant

University of New Hampshire

DURHAM, N.H.--The University of New Hampshire has received $5.6 million from the National Institutes of Health to stimulate biomedical research across the state. The New Hampshire Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (NH-BRIN) established with the three-year grant is part of a national program to improve health-related research in states that have lacked the resources to compete effectively for federal dollars.

A dedication was held recently for NH-BRIN at the university's Center for Structural Biology, home to $1.5 million worth of instrumentation that has been procured with the grant. UNH is first in the world to acquire two of these instruments, including a robotic "picker and spotter" that can process nearly 400 protein samples in one session.

Funding for NH-BRIN comes from the National Centers for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.

"This is a grant that will have direct reverberations throughout the state," notes Vernon Reinhold, a UNH chemist and biochemist who directs NH-BRIN. "Its goal is to bring improved science understanding and capabilities to students and faculty members across the state--and ultimately to bring the best and brightest to UNH. This clearly should make our scientists more successful in acquiring national funding, and what better way to start than by supporting our undergraduate schools and providing established investigators with state-of-the-art instrumentation."

The funding has allowed the university to hire three new researchers, set up a network of collaborating researchers and students at eight institutions across the state, and purchase more than $1.5 million in instruments.

Drawing on the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology, NH-BRIN is fostering research on products of gene expression, its proteins, and how these fundamental components of life lead to cellular function. This understanding can have profound implications for human health and disease.

"The genome has been sequenced," explains Reinhold. "But that barrier to understanding cellular function was trivial compared to the problems that lie ahead. To produce effective therapies and medicines, protect against infectious diseases, and build the healthy society we all want and can afford, we must proceed to the last links between physiological function and molecular structure. We have entered into an era referred to as systems biology."

Reinhold's own research on molecular glycosylation in cell biology is a perfect example. He is currently collaborating with researchers around the world on projects relating to heart disease, gonorrhea, and the immunity-conferring properties of human milk, among others.

NH-BRIN is already supporting research projects at Dartmouth, Keene State College, and Plymouth State College, and is also working with New Hampshire Community Technical Colleges in Portsmouth and Concord, St. Anselm's College, and UNH-Manchester. Researchers and students at these schools can bring biological samples to UNH for analysis and tap into international databases to aid in structural identification.

Thanks to its high speed, robotic equipment, UNH will ultimately have the capability of processing 200,000 samples of protein in a week.

UNH President Ann Weaver Hart notes that the grant provides a strong foundation in an area of research critically needed by New Hampshire. "This funding not only stimulates the research of existing faculty but also should make the university more competitive in attracting the best faculty and students in biomedical fields so vital to all areas of health-related research."

Reinhold can already see the effects of the grant on UNH's ability to compete. Competing with schools such as Johns Hopkins and Harvard, he is heading a group of UNH researchers who are applying for a $10 million National Institutes of Health grant. Even for Reinhold, a prominent researcher in the field who came to UNH from Harvard, "this prospect would have been unthinkable without the talented researchers and equipment that BRIN has already brought to UNH."

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NH-BRIN is a multidisciplinary effort based in both the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the university.

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