MISSOULA – For the first time ever, a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) at a Montana university has been granted a Phase 3 award from the National Institutes of Health.
The $5 million, five-year, Institutional Development Award went to the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Montana. Part of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, CEHS employs about 50 people who study environmental impacts on human health.
“It’s gratifying to be the first COBRE center in Montana to earn a Phase 3 award,” Director Andrij Holian said. “At each stage these awards get more competitive and harder to get. This outcome is a direct result of the high level of science being conducted by our investigators.”
The COBRE program was established to support multidisciplinary biomedical research centers and science infrastructure in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding. UM has two COBRE centers, and Montana State University has two as well.
Holian says most investigators at his center study inflammation in some way. The 17 faculty researchers associated with CEHS examine everything from pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases to autoimmune diseases and developmental defects. Libby asbestos and the effects of wood smoke on human health are just two examples of center research topics.
The center launched in 2000 when Holian was recruited to UM from the University of Texas Houston. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus helped support CEHS with an initial federal appropriation, and the center landed its first $10 million COBRE award in 2002. Phase 2, also $10 million, followed in 2007. Phase 3 was awarded this summer.
“I think the important thing here is how much this effort has enriched the scientific infrastructure for the entire campus,” Holian said. “We have purchased equipment and provided resources that no one investigator alone could afford. Now more than half of the investigators using our equipment are from outside the center.”
Holian said receiving the Phase 3 funding was a great relief, especially after the award was initially not funded last year and CEHS was given one more chance to reapply.
“In the end, with our second application, we didn’t change much,” he said. “We just made some things clearer in our application materials. So, yeah, this is great because it allows us to now continue building on our previous success.”
Holian said in the application they demonstrated that center researchers produced a high volume of scientific publications, that faculty were successful in earning additional grants and that great training programs had been established.
“We’ve been able to, I think, do it all, and we’ve also been able to do a lot of community activities here at the center,” he said. “We also do a lot of outreach and K-12 educational programs.”
Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship, said Holian and his colleagues should be lauded for bringing the Phase 3 award to the University and western Montana.
“Research centers and institutes are powerful economic drivers for our region,” Whittenburg said. “In addition to providing educational opportunities for our students, they create good-paying biotech jobs that enrich the local economy. Andrij should be commended for growing a center that has averaged a workforce of more than 50 people for the past 13 years.”