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NIH Awards UW $5 Million to Continue Neuroscience Research

July 13, 2011
Two men
Professor Francis (Bill) Flynn and graduate student Dane Jensen examine microscopic images on a computer monitor inside a UW neuroscience laboratory. (UW Photo)

Understanding how the brain changes during development and in response to the environment, the development of drugs to treat chronic pain and new insights into the treatment of Huntington's disease are among neuroscience advances at the University of Wyoming that will be bolstered by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The new Center Core grant is an outgrowth of the Institutional Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant that was first awarded in 2000 and renewed in 2005. Neuroscience Center Director Professor Francis (Bill) Flynn says the impact of a decade of NIH funding for neuroscience research at UW has been immense.

"The Neuroscience Center investigators work on interrelated projects that seek to understand how experience shapes neuronal function and synaptic connections during the life span of the animal, and how normal function may be reversed by neurodegenerative diseases and aging,"  Flynn says. "The overall scientific objective is to utilize a multi-pronged and interdisciplinary approach to address common themes in neurodegeneration and aging, neuroplasticity and chronic pain."

One objective was to foster grantsmanship in junior investigators by providing financial support and guidance along with world class instrumentation for their research. With the support of the UW administration, five new faculty members in neuroscience were recruited and neuroscience investigators have been awarded research grants totaling more than $6 million from the NIH, National Science Foundation and Department of Defense.

Among the notable research accomplishments cited by Flynn:

Charles Woodbury, Department of Zoology and Physiology associate professor, identified two major findings that impact understanding of pain and how pain sensations are carried to the central nervous system. One important discovery provides new insight into the way normal pain signals can be either reduced or amplified at different temperatures, and another revealed contributions from a new class of touch receptors in chronic pain.  A better understanding of their role in chronic pain may lead to the development of new analgesic drugs.

Jonathon Fox, veterinary sciences associate professor, led a group that uncovered a number of important findings relating to the pathogenesis and treatment of Huntington's disease. His research identifies novel therapeutic strategies to promote a more rapid clearance of mutant Huntington protein and less rapid disease progression.

New instrumentation in the Microscopy Facility for the first time enabled Flynn to show the time and activity-dependent transport of a particular class of receptors in the brain directly to the nucleus of neurons where it interacts with chromatin or DNA. While the research targets the basic issue of blood pressure, the finding has a broad implication for understanding many disorders, such as epilepsy, and how the functional properties of neurons may be regulated.

The NIH Neuroscience grants also supported neuroscience graduate education, a seminar series and provided approximately $1 million to develop the Jenkins' Microscopy Core, a campus-wide resource available to all faculty members regardless of their research interests. The facility, directed by research scientist Zhaojie Zhang, opens new research opportunities that would not otherwise be available on campus. Another $1 million in the Neuroscience Center Core grant is earmarked to maintain the state-of-the art imaging capability of the microscopy facility during the next five years.

"Neuroscience research has come a long way in the past 10 years," Flynn says. "We now are looking for additional neuroscience funding opportunities, such as educational training grants, that will continue to build neuroscience research and research opportunities at UW."

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