Simpson to guide campus participation in $20M NIH project

Simpson to guide campus participation in $20M NIH project

Melanie Simpson

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is among nine institutions in four states that will use a $20 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop early career researchers and expand resources need to support clinical/translational research around the region.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center was awarded the five-year grant and will serve as the lead institution on the project. Melanie Simpson, professor of biochemistry and associate director of the Center for Biotechnology, will serve as project coordinator at Nebraska.

Funded through the Institutional Development Award program and the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Studies, the grant will create the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network. The clinical/translational research network will include institutions in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Other participating Nebraska institutions include the 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.

“The goal of this grant is to help early career scientists to become independent and launch their own research programs,” said Dr. Matthew Rizzo, professor and chair of neurological studies at UNMC and the project's principal investigator. “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.”

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

Simpson said the program is designed to mentor early career researchers, helping them generate pilot data, pursue competitive clinical/translational research grants, and network with other clinicians within partner institutions.

Translational research uses basic studies (pilot data) to solve real-world problems. In biomedical fields, this type of research is necessary to show that a drug or device works in a living system before it is used on humans.

Clinical research tests the safety and effectiveness of drugs, diagnostic tests and devices that can be used to detect, treat, prevent or track a disease.

"My hope for this project is that we, at least in the biomedical areas, significantly increase the campus interface between UNL and other universities in the University of Nebraska system," Simpson said. "This program will be beneficial in helping researchers realize the strategic importance of shared grants, shared programs and shared students."

Simpson also said the project will lead to an increase in clinical/translational research on campus.

For more information about the Great Plains IDeA-CTR Network grant, the largest federal award UNMC has received to date, click here.