Updated March 25 at 6:25am

URI researcher nets $10M NIH grant to build research capacity

A University of Rhode Island biomedical researcher has been awarded a grant of nearly $10 million to expand research efforts on vaccines and immunotherapeutics at the URI Providence campus.

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URI researcher nets $10M NIH grant to build research capacity


(Updated, 2:36 p.m.)

PROVIDENCE – A University of Rhode Island biomedical researcher has been awarded a grant of nearly $10 million to expand research efforts on vaccines and immunotherapeutics at the URI Providence campus.

The National Institutes of Health’s Institutional Development Award Center of Biomedical Research Excellence builds research capacity in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding.

The researcher, Dr. Alan L. Rothman of the URI Institute for Immunology and Informatics, was just awarded a $11.4 million NIH grant last month for his research on dengue fever.

“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, in a prepared statement. “Perhaps most importantly, it will contribute to the health and well-being of millions of people around the globe.”

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, a immunologist at the Institute, who will work on innate immune responses to dengue virus.

In addition, the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, also known as iCubed, has used grant funds to recruit Barbara Payne, an immunologist with 10 years of experience working in Kenya on HIV exposure in developing fetuses.

At least one more faculty member will be hired with the new funding.

Rothman said the $9.8 million grant will enable iCubed 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,” he said. “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.”

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,” said Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee in a prepared statement. “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.”

U.S. Reps. James R. Langevin and David N. Cicilline and U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse also congratulated Rothman and URI, emphasizing the grant’s potential to raise URI’s profile in the Rhode Island biomedical community and bring additional resources, health researchers and job opportunities to the state.

Dr. Anne S. De Groot, director of iCubed, said she is pleased that the institute’s suite of vaccine design tools will be put to use for basic research under the grant, and thanked Dooley for his support in bringing Rothman to URI.

“Dr. Rothman is a visionary scientist who is committed to training the next generation of vaccine developers,” De Groot told Providence Business News. “He’s very well known in the dengue world, and URI should be very, very proud to have him as a faculty member.”

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.

He has continued his research at iCubed, which supplies cutting-edge bioinformatics tools for the development of vaccines for tropical and emerging infectious diseases, and to accelerate the development of treatments and cures for immune-system related diseases.


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