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Federal grant establishes new UA research center

by Jaime Adame | April 7, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- More than $10 million in federal grant money over five years will establish a new University of Arkansas research center aiming to gather insights from across disciplines about cell and tissue metabolism.

The term in bioscience refers to the physical and chemical processes allowing for body functioning and development.

"Changes in metabolism are a key aspect of common health problems like cancer, diabetes, and obesity that have been devastating in Arkansas," Kyle Quinn, a UA associate professor of biomedical engineering, said.

Quinn is the project leader for the National Institutes of Health grant award, which kicks off with $2,263,150 this fiscal year. He said similar amounts will be awarded in the coming years for an expected total of $10.8 million.

The grant money establishes the Arkansas Integrative Metabolic Research Center.

Quinn, the center's director, previously won grant awards for his research on metabolic imaging, an area of study involving the use of advanced technology.

At the center, imaging and spectroscopy will be one of three core research areas, led by Narasimhan Rajaram, a UA associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Another core area, focused on what is known as bioenergetics, will be directed by Shilpa Iyer, a UA assistant professor of biological sciences. One aspect of the center's work will be measuring cellular respiration. This process can involve living matter converting oxygen to energy, for example.

A core area devoted to data science will be led by Justin Zhan, a professor in UA's Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering.

"At our center, we have a collection of researchers across different scientific disciplines studying how altered metabolism plays a role in both common and rare diseases, and there will be a lot of natural synergy among the different projects," Quinn said.

The center also will support work by other UA and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researchers.

Quinn said over the last five years, members of the center's research team have won money for their work studying metabolism from the NIH, National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. Their earlier work "served as the foundation" for the proposal to establish the new center, he said.

"It is clear that the NIH recognizes this area of research as a strength at the U of A and an important aspect of human health that needs to be studied further," Quinn said in an email.

The NIH summary of the award states the new center "will invest in existing state-of-the-art microscopy service centers on campus."

Quinn said the center's research team has imaging and spectroscopy equipment that will be shared with other researchers.

"We anticipate expanding our capabilities with university support to meet researcher needs as the center is established and grows. The university is committed to providing physical space for the center's research cores, but an exact location hasn't been settled upon," Quinn said.

He said the grant dollars mostly are going to supporting faculty and staff as well as specific projects rather than to major equipment purchases.

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