DSU Neuroscience Research center receives record $10.9 million grant

Gov. John Carney talks to Dr. Melissa Harrington with the Delaware Center of Neuroscience Research during the announcement of a $10.9 million grant on Tuesday at Delaware State University. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Delaware State University celebrated a $10.9 million grant — the biggest in its history — to support their joint efforts with the University of Delaware on the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research Tuesday night. The DSU-based research center was established in 2012 with phase one funding of $10.5 million from the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program. The second raft of funding moves the project into phase two. Gov. John Carney was on hand for the occasion to laud the cooperative effort.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be I think, our two flagship universities working together collaboratively on a research project like this,” he said.

Gov. Carney recalled when he was first approached by the research center’s director Dr. Melissa Harrington.

“It’s not often as an elected official that you get to see things that you’re involved with early on blossom into something like this,” he said. “I was lieutenant governor when Dr. Harrington first approached me about the work she was doing.”

The first five years the center has behind it were busy, said Dr. Harrington.

“The success we’ve had in phase one was due to the incredible research faculty and investigators who poured their hearts into their research and making the project work,” she said.

The center’s initial funding paid for work on over a dozen research projects and laboratory renovations and equipment at both labs in UD and DSU. The projects have yielded 85 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, the first six Neuroscience PhD graduates from DSU, 59 graduate students training in the labs and 94 undergrads training in the labs.

The center’s officials say its goals are to create infrastructure to support the research and career development of neuroscientists in the state. Under the direction of Dr. Harrington at DSU and Dr. Jeffrey Rosen at UD, the center brings together a multidisciplinary group of neuroscientists with research related to neural development and plasticity. The center supports the ongoing research projects of investigators while creating opportunities for regular interaction with established scientists who act as scientific and career mentors and who can provide expertise and resources to help move the research projects forward.

UD’s vice president of research Dr. Charlie Riordan feels that the continued work in the program will put Delaware on the forefront of Neuroscience research.

Sen. Tom Carper speaks during the announcement of a $10.9 million grant to help fund the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research on Tuesday at Delaware State University. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It’s an equal partnership, but really the partnership is being led by DSU — the prime recipient of the award,” he said. “UD is fortunate to be a part of it. The partnership and this center’s activities have really positioned the state to become a leader in Neuroscience research.”

Researchers at the center, some of whom received department-issued awards Tuesday night, will continue their work using non-invasive techniques to study the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and a wide variety of other neurological disorders.

Phase two, which will run another five years to 2022, will be devoted to further developing the center’s labs, bringing on board more researchers and specialists and purchasing more advanced brain imaging equipment.

Dr. Harrington’s opposite at UD, Dr. Rosen, looks forward to the new equipment and staff the center will be able to obtain during phase two.

“A lot of our continuing work will be centered around the imaging machines we’ve got,” he said. “We have a 3T MRI for human imaging, but we’re in the process of getting a small bore, 9.4T magnet for imaging rodents. It’s much stronger, so we’ll be able to get more detailed images of smaller brains.”

Often, genetically engineered rats and mice play host to diseases being studied by the researchers. More detailed images of their brains can give the center access to potentially crucial data.

It’s not all bad news for the mice though, part of the phase two funding will go toward completing and outfitting the center’s Vivarium — mouse housing — at DSU.

More information about the research center can be found at delawareneuroscience.org.

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