URI-Providence research team awarded $10 million grant to increase capacity for vaccine research

PROVIDENCE, RI – A University of Rhode Island biomedical researcher who was awarded a $11.4 million grant last month for his research on dengue fever has been awarded another grant of nearly $10 million as leader of a team to expand research efforts on vaccines and immunotherapeutics at the URI Providence campus.

The National Institutes of Health’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, which builds research capacity in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding, awarded the grant to Research Professor Alan Rothman at URI’s Institute for Immunology and Informatics. The IDeA program aims to support basic, clinical and translational research, faculty development, and infrastructure improvements.

The new grant will enable the Institute to expand its footprint at the Providence campus, recruit additional faculty members, and support research on dengue fever, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

“This grant further raises the stature of URI’s research in the biomedical science community in Providence, while also making a valuable contribution to economic development and job creation in the region,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “Perhaps most importantly, it will contribute to the health and well-being of millions of people around the globe.”

Rothman said the grant will enable the Institute to build capacity for basic immunology research on global health issues, with an orientation toward the development of vaccines and therapeutics. “There are common themes in infectious disease, so what we learn about malaria and dengue also applies to infectious diseases that affect Rhode Islanders. We are conducting basic research on important public health problems, which will set the stage for determining the next steps for preventing and treating these diseases,” he said.

According to Rothman, a major aim of the five-year grant is to “build a cadre of junior investigators toward independence” by providing them with funding for new research projects. One of the junior investigators supported by the grant is Carey Medin, an immunologist at the Institute, who will work on innate immune responses to dengue virus. In addition, the Institute has used grant funds to recruit Barbara Payne, an immunologist with 10 years of experience working in Kenya on HIV exposure in developing fetuses, to the Institute. At least one more faculty member will be hired with the new funding.

The grant will also support the development of new partnerships and pilot projects, particularly a collaboration with Jonathan Kurtis, Jennifer Friedman and colleagues at the Center for International Health Research at Lifespan in Providence, where the grant will support Ian Michelow, a junior researcher who is working to develop vaccines against malaria.

“It is a pleasure to once again send my congratulations to Professor Rothman and his colleagues for receiving an additional grant that will now allow them to not only further their research, but recruit team members and enhance their immunology research on key global health issues,” Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee said. “I am pleased that the National Institutes of Health’s IDeA is recognizing and investing in the strong minds at the University of Rhode Island, one of Rhode Island’s valuable assets.”

“Dr. Alan Rothman and the University of Rhode Island have done it again, raising the profile of the University and putting Rhode Island on the map as an innovative capital for medical research,” said U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin. “This NIH grant is a testament to their groundbreaking work in immunology and informatics, and I believe it will help yield great results for the medical community, our students and for Rhode Island.”

“This grant is a testament to the outstanding work of Professor Rothman and URI faculty and students. This federal funding will hopefully help expand their capacity to research and combat deadly viruses and attract talented immunologists and investigators to Rhode Island,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees federal funding for NIH programs.

“Groundbreaking medical research continues to be a source of pride for our state, and Dr. Rothman has emerged as a leader,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “I congratulate him and URI for receiving this additional award, which will continue their important work preventing and treating deadly diseases.”

“I join my colleagues in congratulating Professor Alan Rothman and his entire team at the University of Rhode Island on receiving nearly $10 million through the National Institutes of Health’s Institutional Development Award Center of Biomedical Research Excellence,” said U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline. “Researchers across Rhode Island are helping to make incredible advancements in medical research and I am proud that this latest grant will help bring additional resources, talented health researchers, and good job opportunities to our state.”

Institute Director and URI Research Professor Annie De Groot is also enthusiastic about the new grant. “Dr. Rothman is a visionary scientist who is committed to training the next generation of vaccine developers,” said De Groot. “I am grateful to URI for supporting his move to Providence, and I am pleased that the iVAX suite of vaccine design tools will be put to use for basic research; that is exactly what we had in mind when we established the Institute just a few years ago. I look forward to working with the new faculty members on their vaccine research programs.”

A resident of Framingham, Mass., Rothman came to URI in 2011 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, where he was awarded an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2008 for additional studies of the dengue virus.

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