UND Today

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Top three in NIH funding, third year in row

UND Biomedical Sciences has eye on No. 1 spot after ranking No. 3 in fiscal year 2019-20, No. 2 in 2020-21

In this 2017 photo, Colin Combs (left), Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, and Harpreet Kaur, postdoctoral research associate, look over lab material and supplies. UND archival image

The results are in, and the University of North Dakota Department of Biomedical Sciences is the No. 2 biomedical sciences department in the nation in terms of research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

As noted by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research (Table 4), which tabulates and ranks NIH award data annually, the biomedical sciences team at UND came in second overall for NIH dollars awarded out of more than 30 biomedical sciences departments nationwide in fiscal year 2020-21. UND has been the only Midwest school listed in the top five for the past three years.

This result marks the third year in a row that the department, housed within UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, has been listed in the top three recipients of NIH grant dollars among comparable biomedical sciences departments nationwide. Department researchers helped UND reach third place in 2019-20, and the move to second place for 2020-21 has the team energized.

“We just missed the top spot by about $450,000,” said department Chair and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences Colin Combs, with a smile. “So the School has more work to do. We would like to be the No. 1 NIH-funded biomedical sciences department.”

Among many other projects, department faculty and programs receiving NIH funding in 2021 include: Associate Professor Mikhail Golovko, awarded a $2.3 million R01 grant to study metabolism in the brain; a $10.7 million grant renewal to the UND Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Host-Pathogen interactions; several additional awards to specific faculty to study infectious diseases such as COVID-19, pneumonia and influenza; and many Alzheimer’s-related awards to Combs, Assistant Professor Abraam Yakoub and others.

According to the School’s 2021 annual report Vital Signs, the 2020-21 academic year was the School’s best-ever for pulling in external funding for research. Between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, total research and sponsored funding at the SMHS was $38.5 million. The figure represents a nearly 25 percent increase in funding over 2019-20 ($30.8 million).

Over the past decade, the School has taken in nearly $300 million in external funding for sponsored research and other projects, much of which was awarded to the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

“I’m excited to see the continued progress that our Department of Biomedical Sciences has made in expanding its extramural funding,” added Marc Basson, senior associate dean for medicine and research at the SMHS. “This is a testament to the hard work and creativity of our faculty. However, the real payoff is not the funding per se but the discoveries our faculty are making using these funds that will eventually have real impact on the health of 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.