University’s $42 million grant to research new treatments, programs, community health

The NIH provided funding for research and community health projects at the University.

by Lew Blank

The University of Minnesota was awarded one of its largest-ever federal research grants this month in a large show of support for University research.

On April 6, the University announced it had received a $42.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to incentivize research in the field of health.

The grant — a continuation of a similar $51 million NIH grant that lasted from 2011 to 2016 — went into effect March 30 and will last through February 2023. 

“It validates us as one of the major institutions in doing these activities and improving population health,” said Bruce Blazar, director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which will manage the grant.

The grant includes funding for research projects, administrative support for faculty and resources for discovering new treatments.

While most of the grant’s funding has already been allocated, a portion of the budget will be given to pilot grants for University researchers. Faculty will compete for the funding to implement research and statewide health programs.

These community projects and research activities will give faculty the opportunity to have a direct impact on public health in Minnesota, Blazar said.

“The community is part of the grant itself,” Blazar said. “It’s not just the health systems — it is a variety of community organizations, and we’re hoping over time to grow the trust and engagement with communities.”

Although the specific projects are yet to be determined, the previous NIH grant demonstrated the large potential of funding community health projects.

As part of the 2011 grant, Rebecca Shlafer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University, researched maternal pregnancy in prisons. She kick-started the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, which provided birth support, prenatal education and parenting assistance to incarcerated mothers in Minnesota.

“The CTSI funding absolutely launched my career,” Shlafer said.

In addition to research and community health projects, the NIH grant funding will be allocated to assist faculty with grant writing, data analysis and preparing budgets.

The funding will also assist with an initiative to create a research support facility in Diehl Hall, which would place 40 staff in the same area, allowing for better in-person communication.

“The center … allows us to coordinate and integrate research that will lead to better clinical care,” said Allen Levine, vice president for research at the University, in a written statement. “Obviously, it is also an important part of our overall research portfolio.”

Blazar believes that the NIH grant can have a transformative impact on health research at the University level and beyond.

“We can incorporate locally, and conversely, we hope to contribute to the national agenda our best practices,” he said.