Jan. 3, 2011–A multi-institutional project that includes the University of Delaware was highlighted in a recent publication by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Northeast Cyberinfrastructure Consortium was one of three projects featured in an article entitled “Infusion of Recovery Act Funds Boosts Biomedical Research,” which provides an overview of NCRR’s funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The article appeared in the fall 2010 issue of NCRR Reporter.

NCRR received more than $1.5 billion to construct and improve laboratory facilities, purchase shared scientific instrumentation, and help advance science discovery. With this funding, the agency made more than 1,100 awards across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico.

According to the article, “The impact of these awards has been far reaching. When combined with other federal grants, as well as contributions from universities and private foundations, ARRA funds are making ambitious projects finally possible. Although these efforts are just getting off the ground, their potential impact on research and health already is evident.”

The Northeast Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (NECC), which brings together institutions in five states, focuses on establishing the necessary Internet infrastructure to collaborate effectively.

Led by Bruce Kingham, director of the Sequencing and Genotyping Lab at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, the team is currently analyzing genomic sequences from the little skate (Leucoraja erinacea) — one of 11 organisms selected by an NIH panel as having significant potential to fill crucial gaps in human biomedical knowledge.

Cathy Wu, Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at UD, is a co-principal investigator on the project and is the lead for much of the little skate bioinformatics effort and annotation workshops.

The NCRR Reporter article traces the development of the consortium from a workshop held in 2007 to discuss cyberinfrastructure needs in the region. The five NECC institutions — Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Dartmouth College, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Vermont and UD — are part of the northeast IDeA (Institutional Development Award) network and were already collaborating through the INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) program.

The principal investigators realized there were “black holes of connectivity” in the region, but they had no immediate source of funding to address the problem. However, they went ahead and prepared a detailed plan for implementation, and, once ARRA funding became available, they sought opportunities at NIH and NCRR to convert their vision into reality.

In 2009, the five institutions applied for supplemental grants from NCRR to begin establishing ultrahigh-speed links among them. They also received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) for research infrastructure improvements.

Karl Steiner, senior associate provost for research development at UD and principal investigator for Delaware’s INBRE program, is quoted in the article: “If the ARRA funds had not been available, we may not be where we are now. It’s really very rewarding to see that what started at a dinner meeting is now having a significant impact on so many people.”

The NCRR Reporter is published in both print and web versions. The other two projects highlighted in the article were a construction project at the University of Florida to foster a holistic approach to research on aging and a new magnetic resonance imaging system at the University of Minnesota.

Article by Diane Kukich on UDaily.