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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: October 20, 2003
Volume 39, Number 7

Biology awarded NIH grant for research excellence
Five-year, $10 million funding will establish immunobiology center

By Steve Carr

The UNM Biology Department received a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program in “Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology.”

“The grant, a partnership between the biology and computer science departments and Los Alamos National Laboratory, is designed to enhance funding for states traditionally underrepresented in NIH funding,” said Eric Loker, department chair and regents’ professor of biology.

The primary goal of the proposal is to establish a research center at UNM with a thematic focus in the disciplines of theoretical and evolutionary immunobiology. The center aims to strengthen ties among senior investigators and create a nurturing, vibrant environment where junior scholars with interests in these disciplines can prosper intellectually, and become independently funded to pursue interests in these areas.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for biology because it will provide us with things that would be difficult to get otherwise, including new faculty, new equipment and renovating part of Castetter Hall to build labs to accommodate new faculty and to support research projects.

“This grant allows us to build a novel program and it will help us to build a real international presence in this area,” Loker said.

As part of the grant, UNM will foster increased connectivity with noted investigators who have similar interests. The Santa Fe Institute, which is also a collaborator, will help to foster close ties among investigators and will serve as a venue for many programmatic events.

Four mentors with research areas connected to theoretical and evolutionary biology are also part of the program including: Luis Cadavid, assistant professor, biology (evolution of non-self recognition in marine organisms); Terran Lane, assistant professor, computer science (exploring similarities between computer and biological defense systems); William Hlavacek of LANL (modeling of internal cell signaling pathways associated with immune systems) and Si Ming Zhang, research assistant professor in biology (study of the defense systems of snails that transmit human pathogens). Other projects will likely involve the study of immune systems of non-traditional mammalian models, including marsupials like opossums and monotremes like the duck-billed platypus.

“Students, both undergraduate and graduate, with the help of this COBRE grant, will have increased opportunities for research experience in state-of-the-art facilities,” said Rob Miller, associate professor and regents’ lecturer and associate chair of the Biology Department.