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June 12, 2012 - USA College of Medicine Scientists Receive Historic $9 Million Research NIH Grant

A team of scientists at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine has been awarded a $9,191,785 research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the causes and consequences of pneumonia, a lung infection that is a major source of illness and death for children and adults over 65 years of age around the world.

The NIH grant, which is termed a program project grant or PPG, marks the largest competitive research grant award in the history of USA, second to only a $14.5 million grant awarded to the USA College of Medicine in 2010 from NIH to fund construction of a state-of-the-art specialized infectious disease research laboratory.

“The renewal of this grant by Dr. Stevens and his colleagues is particularly impressive in light of the highly competitive nature of research funding from the National Institutes of Health during tough economic times,” said Dr. Samuel J. Strada, dean of the USA College of Medicine.

According to Dr. Troy Stevens, the lead scientist on the PPG grant, this funding will allow investigators to focus on translational models and moving the knowledge gained from USA’s research labs toward the clinical care environment. The grant will also support training experiences for both student physicians and researchers at the USA College of Medicine.

“In previous PPG grant awards, our projects examined broad aspects of lung injury on a basic science level,” said Dr. Stevens, who serves as professor of pharmacology and also directs the Center for Lung Biology at USA. “During this funding cycle, we will focus upon a preclinical model of pneumonia that progresses to sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome, applying what was learned in previous research to develop a deeper understanding of lung injury that will enable development of improved treatments for patients.”

Pointing to the success demonstrated by work supported in this PPG, one of the research projects associated with an earlier funding cycle recently led to the formation of a start-up company, Exscien. This company will work to develop first-in-kind treatments for infection and trauma-related lung injury. This is among the first biotech companies to be launched along the Gulf Coast region.

Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection. It is a life-threatening illness among children and adults who are 65 or older. It is the leading cause of death in children worldwide – leading to an estimated 1.4 million deaths in children under the age of five years. In Alabama, pneumonia causes 830 deaths each year.

“Our tremendous depth in lung biology expertise at USA is complimented by the extensive clinical capability that directly relate to this research – services such as the Level I Trauma Center, the Burn Center, the adult and pediatric intensive care units as well as the neonatal intensive care unit,” said Dr. Stevens. “Our goal is to build on these programs and help them enhance both their educational training experiences and patient outcomes.”

Life-threatening consquences of infection and trauma are acute lung injury and multiple organ system failure. There are currently no drugs available to prevent or reverse these disorders. Exscien, the start-up company linked to the PPG, is a collaboration between USA College of Medicine investigators and local business leaders. The company – founded on the discovery of new drugs to repair DNA and prevent and reverse acute lung injury - has plans to rapidly extend its research in model systems to human patients.

The positive impact of medical research funding goes beyond the expansion of knowledge and the improvement of care. In addition to the Exscien endeavor, research funding has a direct and indirect positive economic impact on our community. Including this grant award, NIH has invested approximately $27 million in this PPG during the course of 15 years. Using the established standard research multiplier impact of 2.3, this translates to approximately $70 million in economic stimulus directly related to the 3 funding award cycles of this PPG grant at USA.

A press conference announcing the grant was held June 7, 2012. For more news coverage, click the following links:

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