Powerhouse of biomedical research

UND’s Department of Biomedical Sciences among top recipients of NIH grant funding of comparable departments for second straight year

At the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (above), the Department of Biomedical Sciences came in third overall among 30 comparable departments for National Institutes of Health grant dollars for 2019-20. Image courtesy of UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – For the second year in a row, the University of North Dakota (UND) Department of Biomedical Sciences, housed within UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS), has been listed in the top three recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant dollars among comparable biomedical sciences departments nationwide.

As noted by the BlueRidge Institute for Medical Research, which tabulates and ranks NIH award data annually, the biomedical sciences team at UND came in third overall for NIH dollars awarded out of more than 30 biomedical sciences departments nationwide in 2019-20. The rank matches the department’s third-place national ranking the previous year (2018-19). UND is the only Midwestern school listed in the top five for the past two years.

But according to Department of Biomedical Sciences Chair Colin Combs, Ph.D., even a third-place rank means the School has more work to do.

“We would like to be the number one NIH funded biomedical science department,” Combs said, adding that the department has been in the rating agency’s top-five for such departments for three years straight.

Combs added that the SMHS is coming off its best research year ever in terms of dollars awarded. Researchers based at the school pulled in a record $30.8 million in 2019-20 from all external sources for projects focused not only on neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but cancer, Indigenous health, and various infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Grants awarded to the Department of Biomedical Sciences by the NIH in 2020 include one to assistant professor Motoki Takaku, Ph.D., to study breast cancer; a grant to assistant professor Kumi Nagamoto-Combs, Ph.D., exploring the connection between food allergens and Alzheimer’s; and multiple awards to associate professor Catherine Brissette, Ph.D., that will help her advance her work on Lyme’s disease.

Hoping to help the Department maintain its BlueRidge ranking for 2020-21 is infectious disease researcher Nadeem Khan, Ph.D., who both helped the SMHS develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 prototype vaccine in 2020 and this year was awarded a 2-year $387,750 award from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to advance his team’s new vaccine for bacterial pneumonia.

“The NIH gave us the dollars to evaluate those vaccines, to study them and determine whether they can protect against pneumonia and sepsis,” said Khan. “We’ll be comparing them with existing vaccines and testing their efficacy in the market. We hope to complete this work in the next two years and, by 2023, transition these findings to clinical trials.”

Calling the report evidence of the hard work ongoing across the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UND, Senior Associate Dean for Medicine & Research Marc Basson, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., noted exactly why the ranking is such an accomplishment.

“I am tremendously proud that this team of researchers has continued to grow our School’s research portfolio despite the dual stresses of COVID and a major curriculum revision,” Basson said. “This is exactly the sort of work that we need our faculty to do in order to improve our understanding of and alleviate the health conditions that afflict North Dakotans.”

Brian James Schill

About the author:

Brian James Schill is Director of the Office of Alumni and Community Relations at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.