The University of Minnesota has won a highly competitive $42 million biomedical research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the two biggest federal grants the U has ever received.
The award, set to be announced Friday morning, restores a major funding stream that the U lost two years ago.
The five-year grant will support a variety of research and training activities, especially those that help translate medical research into new devices, tests and treatment methods.
Under a similar, $51 million grant secured in 2011, more than 170 research projects received funding, six startup ventures were created and more than 20 assistant professors completed a cornerstone program in research career development.
“Projects we have funded have led to community forums tackling rural Minnesota heroin and opioid challenges, a rapid infection diagnostic tool, and even influencing policy changes … to improve health outcomes for incarcerated women and their families,” said Dr. Bruce Blazar, director of the U’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which manages the grant.
Dr. Rebecca Shlafer, an assistant professor of pediatrics, received support under the first grant as she advanced from post-doctorate work into a faculty position. Using an initial grant of $25,000, she partnered with a community group to provide prison inmates with doulas, trained professionals who assist pregnant women before and after birth.
“Some amazing work has grown out of that initial seed money,” said Shlafer, who said the program has been growing. “I’ve gotten tremendous support.”
In 2016, the NIH declined to renew the U’s grant, citing the “lack of an overarching vision,” a lack of diversity in training programs and slow approval times for human subject research.
“We would have preferred to have had this happen early and to keep full momentum going, but we were able with local support to keep most of our programs going,” Blazar said. The U addressed the NIH’s concerns and reapplied.
In addition to professional career development, the program aims to use knowledge developed at the university to help the larger community.
“My job is to do science but also inform and improve the lives of Minnesotans,” Shlafer said.
The institute has gathered together a one-stop shop to give student and faculty researchers advice and resources on research study design, statistical analysis and getting approvals for human research.
“This is more of a SWAT-team approach,” said Blazar. “How can we all help you do what you need to do?”
More than 60 medical research institutions, including the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, have received similar funding. One of the goals of the NIH program is to foster collaboration across the country to bring more medical advances into practical use.
“The NIH places a high value on academic research institutions having this mechanism for sharing research across institutions and for developing the future of team science,” said Dr. Jakub Tolar, the U’s Medical School dean and interim vice president for health sciences.