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January 18, 2024

UNE gets $10.8M award to launch research center, explore role of cell signals in disease

The University of New England has received a $10.8 million federal grant to create a research center exploring how the body's cells communicate with each other — a fundamental factor in the growth of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and other illness.

The five-year award from the National Institutes of Health will fund an NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence at UNE's two Maine campuses, the school said in a news release Thursday. The center will be named the UNE Center for Cell Signaling Research.

“I am so proud of what biomedical researchers at UNE have accomplished over the last decade, and this award is more evidence of our regional leadership in investigating real-world health issues that are impacting Mainers and Americans every day,” said UNE President James Herbert.

The funding will initially support four research projects and the creation of a nearly 5,000-square-foot laboratory, renovated from a section of the Alfond Center for Health Sciences on UNE’s Biddeford campus. The school is also in the midst of a build-out to centralize its College of Osteopathic Medicine and other health-related facilities on the Portland site.

“The University is making strategic investments in renovating research laboratories on the Biddeford and Portland campuses, including the Portland Laboratory for Biotechnology and Health Sciences, with the goal of providing state-of-the-art research facilities to support [the medical school's] vital research mission as well as unifying biomedical and biotechnology research infrastructure across UNE’s two Maine campuses,” said Provost Gwendolyn Mahon.

The NIH's Center of Biomedical Research Excellence program supports innovative research through awards that are typically given in three sequential five-year phases. Another COBRE, the UNE Center for Pain Research, launched in 2012. The school is the only one in Maine with two such centers, and received a total of $4 million in new NIH funding awards in 2022.

By examining chronic disease at the cellular level, the new center will eventually help Mainers live healthier lives, said its program director, Derek Molliver.

“We're expanding into really hot areas of research that are targeting significant clinical challenges for the 21st century, research into chronic metabolic diseases that impact Mainers across their lifespan,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of excitement about how we can help people to live healthier and have a high quality of life. Those are the dramatic new questions for society that this center will be looking into.”

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