UAMS Hosts Researchers From Several States

Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., left, talks with Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, at the IDeA Meeting's opening reception at the Clinton Presidential Center.

Mark Smeltzer, Ph.D., speaks to a meeting audience at the Little Rock Marriott.

Daohong Zhou, M.D., right, talks with one of the meeting's attendees about one of the research posters on exhibit.

Dec. 10, 2013 | Scientific researchers shared their findings with each other at the UAMS-hosted 2013 Southeast Regional IDeA meeting in mid-November at the Little Rock Marriott while learning about a new funding opportunity to commercialize their discoveries.

Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), spoke to the 370 students, faculty and administrators from the southeast region about the funding program that still is under development.

Lawrence Cornett, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research at UAMS, said learning about the new program so early means it’s possible for the research community to have some say in how they program develops. The program could help research scientists commercialize their intellectual property faster and more smoothly.

The purpose of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, an initiative of the NIGMS, is to broaden the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for biomedical and behavioral research in 25 states and Puerto Rico that historically have received less in research funding than other states.

The southeast region for IDeA includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Region-wide meetings to present research and share other information are held every other year with each state taking a turn at hosting.

Attendance at the Little Rock meeting was notably higher than at either of the two previous meetings. The research areas for the meeting focused on bioinformatics, cancer, cardiovascular research, cell signaling, infectious disease/immunology and neuroscience.

Before the meeting, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe hosted a lunch at the Governor’s Mansion for some of the NIH officials attending the conference.  The meeting officially began at a reception at the Clinton Presidential Library, followed by one-and-a-half days of talks and networking at the Marriott Hotel.

“I looked at some of the posters, and I found some very interesting things relevant to the research we do,” Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., said. “The undergraduates will take their awards back and talk the program up with their fellow students and their faculty. That gives us more positive exposure and will help with future recruitment into different fields of research. It’s a great experience for those students.”

UAMS has two Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBREs) supported by the IDeA program. They are the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Inflammatory Responses, led by Mark Smeltzer, Ph.D., and the Center for Translational Neuroscience, led by Garcia-Rill. COBREs provide infrastructure and technical support to promote the careers of junior scientists.

Smeltzer said he learned in the spring that the state slated to host this year’s meeting couldn’t do it, so he went to Cornett to see if he thought it would be a good idea for the COBREs and Cornett’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) to step up and host. They all agreed and began working to pull it off.

Arkansas INBRE’s purpose is to help build the research infrastructure across the state and encourage more students to engage in and even pursue careers in scientific research.

Though UAMS had only about half the time that previous organizers had, UAMS faculty, administrators and staff were able to ramp up for a successful meeting in mid-November that equaled or surpassed those earlier efforts.

Cornett, Garcia-Rill and Smeltzer all thought it would be a good idea to include undergraduate INBRE researchers for the first time at the regional meeting. The undergraduate researchers put up large posters of graphics and text that described their research and findings. About 100 of them attended a panel of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who talked with them about their research experiences. Many undergraduate researchers took home grant awards and other honors.

Including the work of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, more than 60 research posters were on display at the meeting.

“I think the biggest take-away for us as a host was the opportunity to show that UAMS science is first rate,” Cornett said. “It gave our investigators here and around the United States the chance to interact with each other and possibly establish collaboration.”

Smeltzer said opportunities to share the use of expensive laboratory equipment were discussed and likely will prove fruitful.

Cornett, Garcia-Rill and Smeltzer praised UAMS staff for making the meeting come together in short order, including Helen Benes, Ph.D., INBRE associate director; Rhonda Anthony, COBRE administrative coordinator; Caroline Miller Robinson, INBRE project manager, and Diane McKinstry, INBRE coordinator.

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