Alaska Institutional Development Award Biomedical Excellence: Alaska INBRE
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
The mission of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is to support research that increases understanding of life processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. NIGMS-funded researchers seek to answer important scientific questions in fields such as cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, biomedical technology, bioinformatics, computational biology, selected aspects of the behavioral sciences and specific cross-cutting clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems. To assure the vitality and continued productivity of the research enterprise, NIGMS also provides leadership in training the next generation of scientists as well as in developing and increasing the diversity of the scientific workforce.
The natural environment dominates Alaska. Our population is sparse (670,000, a density of one per mi2, <20% of Montana ) and our economy depends on our natural resources. Even in downtown Anchorage , the mountains circling from the east to the west and the ocean on the south are always visible. Alaska ’s Native people have significant authority over their ancestral homelands and are major factors in government, the economy, education, and health care. In this proposal, we use our natural environment as a point of departure to address critical global biomedical research priorities and to build an Alaska–related biomedical culture.
Alaskans are front-line recipients of assaults from environmental agents causing disease. The health impacts of global climate change stem in part from mobilization of contaminants, spread of infectious microbes, and shifts in subsistence foods. Alaska INBRE targets chemical agents (especially contaminants in subsistence foods) and zoonotic and vector-borne microbial agents of disease. The University of Alaska (UA) is internationally known for ecology, population biology, wildlife biology, and climate change research (physical and ecological). Latitude places our university at a prime site for research at the human-environmental interface.
Alaska ’s biomedical research funding has lagged behind most states of the nation for decades. The disparity is due partly to the absence of a full medical, dental, or veterinary college and also reflects the fact that basic biomedical research never became a central priority as UA developed. Since 1960, our research has focused on the physical environment and natural resources of the state. A concatenation of events over the last decade has firmly established health as a university-wide priority for the 21st century.
In 1998 when he became president of UA, Mark Hamilton insisted on greater university-wide attention to state needs. In 2001, the new federal infrastructure awards (COBRE, BRIN/INBRE, SNRP, NSF EPSCoR) provided means and motive to address the profound geographic and cultural disparities in Alaska ’s biomedical research capacity. In 2002, the position of Associate Vice President for Health was created and Karen Perdue, the former commissioner for Heath and Human Services for the state, was recruited to fill the job. UA invested in infrastructure (laboratories and administrative support), hired 23 new tenure-track faculty in biomedicine and related areas at UAA and UAF, and greatly augmented our undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional programs in health and biomedicine.