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Boise State Receives $10 Million COBRE Grant from NIH

A $10 million grant over five years from the National Institutes of Health will establish a prestigious Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Matrix Biology at Boise State University. COBRE centers promote collaborative, interactive efforts among researchers with complementary backgrounds, skills and expertise.

by Boise State University
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Kristen Mitchell, Julia Oxford and Trevor Lujan.Boise State UniversityThe IDeA program builds research capacities in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research; faculty development; and infrastructure improvements.

This is the first COBRE grant awarded to Boise State and the third in Idaho. It will support research in heart disease, cancer and stroke; ligament injury and repair; and liver fibrosis. Additional projects could be added over the course of the grant in musculoskeletal and cancer research.

The grant will be housed within the Boise State Biomolecular Research Center (BRC) and administered by Julia Oxford, biology professor and director of the BRC. The grant is part of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical and behavioral research.

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“An award of this magnitude is recognition of the high-quality research being done by Boise State’s biomolecular faculty investigators and will allow us to increase our biomedical research efforts. It demonstrates that our researchers are contributing to solving the major health concerns of the nation,” said Boise State President Bob Kustra. “It also reflects the university’s focus on the collaborative, transdisciplinary research that is vital to innovation and scientific discovery.”

Several recent accomplishments have prepared Boise State for this major award, including establishment of Idaho INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) with University of Idaho and Idaho State and other partner institutions; approval for a biomedical research vivarium; and a Ph.D. program in biomolecular sciences — a requirement to apply for the grant.

Kustra made a particular point about the role private donors – Duane and Lori Stueckle of Boise – played in making this grant possible. The Stueckles learned about Oxford’s research in 2005 and began investing in her work and faculty position through regular philanthropic gifts, ensuring her research would stay at Boise State.

“Duane and Lori’s generosity and commitment to Boise State helped create this extraordinary opportunity,” Kustra said. “It’s an inspiring example of how donors can potentially impact thousands of lives by giving and how philanthropy is building the future of this university.”

As program director and principal investigator, Oxford will supervise three other investigators on individual projects that share a common scientific theme. Creating a central mass of investigators working on related projects allows for a beneficial exchange of ideas and allows the researchers to manage an NIH-funded research lab and apply for NIH research funding. All three researchers are working on projects related to extracellular matrix structure, function and changes related to disease or injury.

“The extracellular matrix is of fundamental importance for the physiology of multicellular organisms,” Oxford said. “It consists of molecules secreted by cells residing within the connective tissues and organs of the body. The extracellular matrix provides structural support for the cells, as well as influencing important processes such as cell migration, proliferation and differentiation.”

The three individual projects are:

• Allan Albig, assistant professor of biological sciences
“Extracellular matrix in the calcification of the cardiovascular system”

The three most common causes of death in the United States are heart attack, cancer and stroke. Understanding the causes of these diseases will help with the development of new treatment options. Albig and others have determined that the Matrix Gla Protein (MGP) is associated with all three of these diseases, however the role of MGP in disease is poorly understood. The goal of this project is to explore the biological mechanisms by which MGP governs heart disease, cancer and stroke.

• Trevor Lujan, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering
“Extracellular matrix in ligament injury and repair”

Ligament sprains can lead to chronic joint disorders due to the slow and poor healing of the damaged tissue. Thus, a critical need exists to develop treatment strategies that speed and strengthen ligament repair. This research project will utilize experimental and computational methods to determine whether the direct application of mechanical loads to damaged ligament will stimulate healthy tissue remodeling. Results from this project could support the use of economical therapies such as soft-tissue mobilization to enhance ligament healing.

• Kristen Mitchell, associate professor of biological sciences
“Liver fibrosis and extracellular matrix overproduction”

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are a worldwide problem and the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. Liver cirrhosis is preceded by fibrosis — a reversible, wound-healing response characterized by the synthesis of abnormal and excessive extracellular matrix by myofibroblasts. The goal of Mitchell’s research is to investigate the role of aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling during myofibroblast activation and the development of liver fibrosis. This research will address a critical barrier that previously has hindered the development of effective anti-fibrotic therapeutics.

The COBRE award will support research infrastructure such as professional research and administrative staff, access to sophisticated instrumentation, equipment training and grant writing workshops. It also will partner with the Idaho INBRE on its summer research program.

COBRE support comes in three sequential five-year phases. Phase 1, for $10 million, focuses on developing research infrastructure and providing junior investigators with formal mentoring and research project funding to help them acquire data and successfully compete for independent research grant support.

Success during Phase 1 will set the university up to apply for a Phase 2 grant for further improvements in research infrastructure and continuing development and support. By the end of Phase 2, centers are expected to be able to successfully compete for other sources of research funding. Phase 3 transitional centers provide support for maintaining COBRE research cores developed during the first two phases and sustain a collaborative multidisciplinary research environment with pilot project programs, and mentoring and training components.

The COBRE in Matrix Biology is funded by the NIH National Institute of General Medicine.

Research reported in this release was supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant numberP20GM109095.