Vision for biomedical research takes form at Morgan

Laboratory center aims to attract top students

April 20, 2003|By Kory Dodd | Kory Dodd,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nearly five months after receiving a $10 million grant, Morgan State University has forged ahead with plans for an interdisciplinary center focusing on biomedical research that officials say will establish the university's place in that field.

The center will "bring attention to Morgan ... [and] it will really be able to attract a better quality of graduate students," said Annie Williams, program manager for the Morgan State University Biomedical Research Center.

The grant, from the National Institutes of Health National Center for Research Resources, will fund three laboratories and nine research projects and provide scholarships for three students during the next five years.

Although the center's facilities are due to be completed by September, research has begun in three temporary laboratories on the campus, Williams said.

The new center's three core laboratories will be devoted to cellular and molecular biology, histochemistry and cytology, environmental health and toxicology. Each lab will have a director and research associates who will "enable faculty members to go there and consult with people to get their research going," said T. Joan Robinson, the center's program director and dean of the School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

Robinson said the center "will allow the faculty and students to get more involved in research."

The scholarships are for students in the bio-environmental sciences doctoral program who are involved in a research project with a department faculty member. The funds cover the full costs of tuition and include a $16,500-a-year stipend, Robinson said.

Three students have been chosen for the current semester and each is helping faculty with one of the nine grant-funded projects. The projects fall within the categories of stress and cardiovascular diseases; HIV/AIDS research; neurodevelopment and neurodisorders; and environmental health, toxicology and biosensor research.

The nine categories were chosen by NIH from proposals first submitted by faculty in 2001, Robinson said. They were selected based on faculty expertise.

Robinson had long envisioned a biomedical research center at the university, but said the first step was creating a doctoral program in bioenvironmental sciences, which she did in 2000.

The NIH was funding several research projects when Robinson began writing a proposal for the center in 2001. In February last year, Robinson submitted her proposal and waited. By November, funding for the center had been approved.

"Once students see what is going on [with the center] it will increase enrollment," Robinson said. Eight students are currently enrolled in the doctorate program.

Robinson said she also is planning to forge links with other institutions and to create partnerships with other research centers and companies.

And because the center is funded by an NIH research grant, its laboratories will be free until the grant runs out. After five years Robinson said she wants to make the labs self-sustaining by setting up costs for lab activities.

"We hope that in the long run these core labs will be self-sustaining so we can market them," Robinson said. Marketing will allow faculty and students to continuing using the labs free of charge while visiting researchers will have to pay a fee, Robinson said.

For the time being, the focus is on starting the research, finishing the purchase of equipment and hiring staff, Robinson said.

"So far it's going quite well," Williams said. "A lot of accomplishments have already been made."

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