UNO, UNMC among Nebraska schools awarded $6 million federal research grant


By Josie Loza

The University of Nebraska Medical Center has been awarded a three-year, $6 million federal grant to collaborate with other academic institutions in Nebraska for the expansion of biomedical research.

Five undergraduate institutions and three Ph.D.-granting universities in Nebraska will be part of the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network, which is being formed with funds from the grant.

The collaborating universities include UNMC, Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney, UNO, Chadron State College, Wayne State and Nebraska Wesleyan University.

The program is designed to strengthen biomedical training throughout the state in smaller campuses, said William deGraw, a professor who oversees the project at UNO.

The BRIN grant was a gift from the National Institutes of Health and will provide funds for faculty at the undergraduate level, for BRIN associates to conduct research with selected students and for BRIN scholars at their institutions. The money will be dispersed so that the faculty can continue its research during the summer.

“What we are trying to do is create opportunities for undergraduate students,” said James Turpen, professor of cell biology and anatomy at UNMC and principal investigator for the BRIN grant.

“This grant will make it possible for undergraduate students and their faculty members to conduct research that really is cutting-edge,” Turpen said.

The grant will also provide support for three scientific cores in biomedical research. The following will be studied: proteomics, or how proteins interact to provide structure and to drive chemical reactions in the cell; genomics, or how the human genome is altered under conditions that lead to disease; and bioinformatics, which uses computers to analyze scientific data that would otherwise take years to analyze.

The bioinformatics core is essential to the successful study of both proteomics and genomics, Turpen said.

“Certainly, it’s training that they wouldn’t be able to get at their undergraduate institutions,” Turpen said.

After the BRIN scholars have completed some research work with the faculty, they will attend an eight-week workshop at one of the Ph.D.-granting institutions.

There, they will learn research fundamentals and some modern laboratory skills, as well as work alongside acclaimed researchers and really get involved in some research, Turpen said.

“BRIN students will have a chance to work with researchers throughout the summer and perhaps the academic year,” deGraw said. “The program will support the scholars through the summer to get some experience.”

BRIN was a project developed for Nebraska. It formed in hopes of seeing more Nebraskan students stay in Nebraska to get advanced degrees, Turpen said.

When they graduate, each scholar will be well-prepared to enter doctorate studies at UNMC, Creighton or UNL, deGraw said.

Three BRIN scholars will be selected at each undergraduate institution. If they wish to pursue a Ph.D., the grant money will provide them tuition and a stipend, Turpen said.

BRIN scholars from each campus will receive $3,500 to attend a summer training session at UNMC, UNL or Creighton.

Unlike a paid internship, the program has some frills that do not normally come with internships.

“The program allows students the opportunity for training at the graduate colleges and an opportunity to meet with other participants from other campuses,” deGraw said. “It’s really valuable to start as early as possible in talk with other studies, share ideas and present work.”

Undergraduates at least in their sophomore year or more likely in their junior year are eligible for the program. The selection committee is putting together an application form for the BRIN program at UNO.

At the very latest, the application should be ready by the last week in January, deGraw said.

For more information about BRIN, access the Web site