School of Medicine scientist receives additional funding to support smooth muscle plasticity research

NIH grant of $5.4 million to help establish self-supporting labs

By Anne McMillin, APR

Kenton Sanders

Kenton Sanders, Ph.D., chair of the School of Medicine's cell biology and physiology department, has one of the longest, continually funded NIH grants in the nation. Photo by Jean Dixon.

RENO, Nev. - Kenton Sanders, Ph.D., chair of the physiology and cell biology department at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, has received Phase 3 funding in the amount of $5.4 million over the next five years from the National Institutes of Health to support his Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Program on Smooth Muscle Plasticity.

More than 70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal diseases, and Sanders' research program has contributed to treatments for gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes and other diseases. The Phase 3 grant funding, an Institutional Development Award (IDeA), will support further exploration of how smooth muscles change in response to disease.

"Kent is an internationally recognized expert who has made seminal contributions in the area of smooth muscle physiology," Mridul Gautam, University of Nevada, Reno vice president research and innovation, said. "He is a visionary and has put the University and School of Medicine on the world map with his research activities."

"Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, like the one at the University of Nevada, Reno, are thematic, multidisciplinary programs that enhance faculty and institutional research capabilities in states that historically have had low levels of National Institutes of Health funding," W. Fred Taylor, Ph.D., who directs the IDeA program at NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, said.

"The new phase of support will enable this center to build on the substantial progress it has made in these areas as well as to extend the application of new technologies it has developed for studying smooth muscle biology."

At 30 years of continual funding, Sanders' research program is one of the longest continually funded NIH Program Project Grants in the country. Crediting Sanders' leadership, Gautam said: "The program has kept evolving by adopting the latest technologies and pursuing new and relevant directions."

Phase 3 funding allows the School of Medicine to grow, equip and staff two Core research laboratories within the Physiology and Cell Biology Department and bring these labs to a point where they can sustain their functions independently. The Core labs not only enhance the research capabilities of the COBRE program but will provide needed technologies to researchers across the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Use of the Core labs is designed to allow researchers to expand the technologies of their own labs and to enhance research capabilities that would be difficult to support by the grants of a single investigator. A pilot grant program, funding four grants in three departments of two colleges during the upcoming year, is also supported by the COBRE. Pilot grants will be used to stimulate utilization of Core laboratory technologies and help new investigators generate pilot data for research grant applications.

The first of the Core labs, the Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting/Flow Cytometry lab, works collaboratively with individual investigators, especially those who may not have extensive experience with flow cytometry and cell sorting. It assists in designing, executing and analyzing flow cytometric studies for investigators from the School of Medicine, the University and from outside entities.

The mission of the second Core lab, called the Single Cell Molecular Expression, is to provide instrumentation and scientific expertise on several cutting-edge molecular and genomic technologies that are in high demand, but technically challenging, to individual investigators throughout the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Having these labs at the School of Medicine means young scientists embarking on their careers can take advantage of the highly technical facilities to start their own research projects with the ultimate goal of securing their own funding sources as their projects develop.

"The COBRE helps sustain the goal of recruiting students and researchers to this University so that they may train using the cutting-edge equipment of the Core labs, thereby exposing them to and preparing them for real-world biomedical science careers," Sanders said.

He said the Phase-3 funding will help grow these two labs to the point they sustain their own revenue by performing research brought in by investigators across campus. Once scientists obtain preliminary results, they are able to apply for their own grant funding from the NIH and other funding sources.

A substantial amount of the money invested in research is matched to help support the parent institution – in this case, the University of Nevada, Reno – offset overhead costs of facilities and building operations. Therefore, grants provide significant revenues to the parent institution, help fund the research performed in University labs and allow the University to hire well-trained faculty and staff to conduct research and train students in the use of cutting-edge technologies. All of these contributions provide significant economic support and growth in the state.


Contact

Anne McMillin, APR
Editor, News and Publications
Office: (775) 682-9254
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amcmillin@medicine.nevada.edu

The University of Nevada School of Medicine, a research-intensive, community-based, statewide medical school, has served Nevada for more than 47 years as its only public medical school. Our mission is improving the health of Nevada’s diverse population through world-class biomedical research, an innovative curriculum integrating basic and clinical sciences, and highly competitive residency and fellowship programs that complement a statewide network of urban and rural clinical facilities. Through targeted growth and investment in research, clinical services and education, we are a resource for improving health care regionally and across the country.