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DSU, UD to receive $10.9M National Institutes of Health grant

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Wilmington News Journal

Jump-starts a new round of neuroscience research

Jessica Bies

Delaware News Journal USA TODAY NETWORK

A five-year, $10.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will jump-start a new round of experimentation and study at the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research, a partnership between Delaware State University and the University of Delaware.

The center was founded in 2012 and is based out of DSU, which is the lead institution for the program. It was started with a $10.5 million grant from the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program, which paid for 13 research projects, six at UD and seven at DSU. The funding was also used to renovate a building at DSU to house laboratory mice.

“The funding from the (National Institutes of Health), through the center, has really been transformative,” said Melissa Harrington, a DSU professor and the center’s director.

She believes that without the initial grant, both UD and DSU would be years behind where they are now. As part of the partnership, researchers from both 

universities have been conducting cutting-edge scientific research on brain development and the neurobiology of learning for five years now, she said.

DSU has also graduated six students with PhDs in neuroscience, with two more to earn their degrees this May.

“At Delaware State, in particular, our neuroscience program would be so much smaller, have so much less impact,” Harrington said.

The new grant — the largest DSU has ever received — puts the center into “phase two” of the collaborative partnership, which will be committed to developing Delaware’s capabilities in advanced brain imaging.

The grant will support researchers who use noninvasive imaging techniques to measure brain function in living subjects — both in humans and laboratory animals, Harrington said. Researchers will work to understand the causes of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, how the brain is changed by traumatic stress, and understanding why people engage in impulsive and self-destructive behavior.

The grant will also help pay for a new 3T MRI scanner at UD, which is putting about $1.6 million toward the total cost of $2.1 million. The machine is twice as strong as traditional MRIs and can produce very detailed images of intricate body parts such as the brain, vascular system and joints.

It will allow researchers to do brain scans on mice and rats, used in biomedical research but often too small to get a clear picture of, Harrington said.

Though the MRI machine will be located at UD, researchers from Delaware State University will have access to it for their research, she said. Heading up the program there is Jeffrey Rosen, a psychology professor.

Since the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research was launched, researchers have published 85 articles in peer-reviewed journals, Harrington said. One study, conducted by UD’s Tania Roth, looked at the impact of early-life trauma on subsequent generations and found that rats with negligent parents tended to mistreat their own offspring. Though the rats’ genes didn’t mutate, chemical changes made them express themselves differently, resulting in behavioral changes that were passed down to their daughters.

For another study, DSU’s Michael Gitcho genetically engineered mice that more closely resemble human Alzheimer’s patients. His research has the potential to “really advance the field,” Harrington said.

The new grant will support hiring new researchers with expertise and research that relies on brain imaging. One new faculty member will be recruited at UD and two will be recruited at DSU.

Delaware leaders on Tuesday noted that the partnership between the universities gives the First State a strong position within the neuroscience research community nationwide.

Gov. John Carney said the grant would prepare a new generation of innovators, researchers and biomedical professionals, and that DSU and UD have an impressive capacity for collaboration and innovation.

“Five years ago, Delaware State University and the University of Delaware launched a joint effort to begin important neuroscience research, which solidified these prestigious universities’ reputation as talented research institutions,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper in a statement. “This federal grant from the National Institutes of Health means that critical work will continue. Not only will this First State collaboration advance the study of the brain, but it will also attract talented students and scientists to our state.”

To find out more about the Delaware Center for Neuroscience research, visit www.delaware neuroscience.org.

Contact Jessica Bies at (302) 324-2881 or jbies@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicajbies. Looking for more education news? Visit delawareonline.com/education. Submit story ideas at http://delonline.us/2i2tugB.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 19:45