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August 23, 2022

UNE receives $5M to support chronic pain research, industry collaboration

person with lab equipment Courtesy / University of New England A researcher works at the University of New England’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, which received new federal money to support pain research.

The University of New England received more than $5 million to continue its research in the studies of pain and novel therapeutics while driving workforce and economic development in the region.

The five-year, $5.17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will go to UNE's Center of Biomedical Research Excellence for the Study of Pain and Sensory Function.

The latest grant brings total federal support for the center to over $25 million. 

A major goal of the program is to be a part of workforce training for Maine, to be a valuable research tool that is not just internal to UNE, and to boost the economy and the biomedical science community in Maine, said Ian Meng, the center’s director. 

person posing and smiling
Courtesy / University of New England
Ian Meng

The center’s research contributes to the scientific understanding of the neurobiology of chronic pain, facilitating the discovery and development of novel therapies, including new drugs and other non-pharmaceutical treatment options, according to a news release.

The center’s primary focus is to provide support to junior scientists as they establish independent research programs, and the center has also in recent years formed several external partnerships in industry and health care that will bolster development in those sectors for years to come. Such partnerships include Corning and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. 

Students in several of UNE’s academic programs conduct research in the center’s two core research facilities. The histology and imaging core houses high-tech microscopes and imaging analysis software and the behavioral core facilitates early drug discovery. 

Since its inception, the center has: 

• Provided over 600 one-on-one research core training sessions for undergraduate students

• Given over 90 undergraduates experience in a neuroscience research lab

• Produced more than 85 research publications listing UNE students as authors on peer-reviewed publications

• Supported 191 peer-reviewed research publications

The center was established in 2012 with funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The first, five-year phase of the grant increased UNE’s capacity for research in the biomedical sciences by expanding research space at the university, recruiting new neuroscience faculty and establishing the two research cores. In 2017, the second five-year phase of the center’s program built a critical mass of investigators conducting research in pain and neurobiology.

Over the past 10 years, several junior faculty funded by the center have gone on to receive their own grants to further support pain research. 

Recently, Benjamin Harrison, assistant professor of biochemistry and nutrition, received $1.8 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health to develop non-opioid pain treatments through reducing the activity of pain-sensing neurons called “nociceptors.”

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