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Staying alive: $18 million grant keeps USM bio-med initiative going

An $18 million grant renewal will ensure the University of Southern Mississippi and partner institutions can continue biomedical initiatives designed to have a lasting impact on the health Mississippians, the university said in announcing the award that brings the total received for the Biomedical Research Mission since 2001 to nearly $54 million.

microscopes  6031540791_a8071e1271The funding comes from a national program developed by the National Institutes of Health called IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). The grants are intended to enhance the caliber of scientific faculty at research institutions and undergraduate schools, thereby attracting more promising students to these organizations, USM says.

The recent renewal runs from 2013-2018 and brings the total amount of the grant – established in 2001 – to nearly $54 million. Dr. Glen Shearer and Dr. Mohamed Elasri, professors in the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Miss, serve as principal investigators for the grant.

“The goals we established when we first sought this grant are the same ones we follow today,” said Shearer. “Our objective has always been to change the lives of Mississippians through biomedical research, education and training. These INBRE grants allow us to establish critical research initiatives all across the state that will have a lasting impact on the health and well-being of all Mississippians.”

Southern Miss serves as the lead university in the Mississippi INBRE network which includes all five research-intensive institutions – Southern Miss, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, Jackson State University and University of Mississippi Medical Center. The network also includes six partner undergraduate institutions — Alcorn State University, Millsaps College, Mississippi College, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University and Tougaloo College. Additionally, eight outreach institutions are involved, including most of the state’s junior colleges.

Shearer said the NIH grants have allowed researchers/educators to focus on a broad range of biomedical-related areas such as cancer research, diabetes research, heart disease, teen pregnancy, obesity and sexually transmitted diseases. As the state with the greatest incidence of cardiovascular deaths in the nation (50th rank), 46th rank for cancer and 35th rank for infectious diseases – these areas are of great interest to Mississippi students and of vital importance to the state and its health disparities populations.

Elasri serves as the grant program’s coordinator. He said he is particularly proud to see biomedical research opportunities being made available to the undergraduate partner institutions. Elasri has been instrumental in setting up research protocols at these schools and assisting faculty on writing effective grant proposals.

“Just a few years ago this type of research was not being conducted at these schools and now we have faculty, students and the latest technology on site at all of them,” Elasri said. “One of the real keys to securing renewals of this grant from NIH has been to show that we are committed to the idea of expanding biomedical research throughout the state. We knew that there were already some well-established research institutions in Mississippi, but we needed to get all of the impressive brainpower across the state involved.”

The Mississippi INBRE grant helps support the work of hundreds of biomedical researchers and student trainees across the state. At Southern Miss, for example, the MS-INBRE helps to support the work of 21 faculty members, 40 graduate students and nearly 50 undergraduate students.

Elasri and Shearer have also instituted a “Biomedical Bootcamp” for undergraduates seeking careers in related fields. This summer’s camp included between 20-30 students from across the state who spent one week on the Southern Miss campus in Hattiesburg.

“We try to jam as much into that time period as possible,” said Elasri. “We want to give them a firm understanding of the commitment required to work in biomedical research.”

Added Shearer: “This type of research requires great dedication and commitment – especially once you reach the graduate student level. It’s definitely not for everybody but the students we have involved here are among the brightest you will find anywhere.”

Another key to securing additional NIH funding for this massive project is to provide a credible road map for success over the five-year grant period. Among the objectives outlined by Mississippi INBRE are:

>>>Establish five new biomedical research laboratories at the partner undergraduate institutions.

>>>Strengthen the science curriculum at the undergraduate institutions by providing curriculum enhancement grants to provide faculty release time and essential equipment for developing new interdisciplinary courses.

>>>Provide professional development opportunities to faculty at the undergraduate institutions by organizing proposal writing workshops, technical workshops and work groups that are tailored to undergraduate institutions.

>>>Implement the Mississippi INBRE Research Scholars Program (11-week summer undergraduate research internships), by adding a career development training module.

>>>Establish a Community Engagement and Training Core that will directly address health disparities and promote education and prevention in the areas of cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and obesity.

>>>Develop an internship program that targets students who are interested in community outreach activities in rural and/or African-American populations.



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