The National Center for Research Resources has awarded a five-year, $11.1-million grant to Rhode Island Hospital to establish the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence for Skeletal Health and Repair and create a multidisciplinary team of scientists with the hospital’s academic partner, The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded Rhode Island Hospital an $11.1-million grant to study the prevention and treatment of skeletal joint diseases. The five-year grant will establish the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for Skeletal Health and Repair at Rhode Island Hospital and create a multidisciplinary team of scientists with The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the hospital’s academic partner.

The grant is one of the largest in the hospital’s history and comes at a time of intense competition for federal funding for biomedical research. Basic science findings from the COBRE center may lead to improved preventive strategies or treatments for joint diseases such as osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 21 million Americans and is one of the country’s most common chronic illnesses.

“In this highly competitive research environment, we are honored that the NIH has again recognized Rhode Island Hospital as an institution with the talent, expertise and innovative spirit to conduct world-class, pioneering research in the area of orthopedics,” said George Vecchione, interim president and CEO, Rhode Island Hospital.

This is the NIH’s sixth COBRE grant to Rhode Island-based institutions, including the second at Rhode Island Hospital. These awards – designed to strengthen institutional biomedical research capability and enhance research infrastructure – have collectively brought more than $60 million in federal research funding to the state since 2000.

“The creation of a multidisciplinary research center will enable investigators from across different disciplines – including those with clinical, biological and engineering expertise – to collaborate on cutting-edge research with the common goal of helping the millions of Americans who suffer from joint diseases or injury,” said Michael Ehrlich, M.D., surgeon-in-chief of orthopedics at Rhode Island Hospital and chairman of the Department of Orthopaedics at Alpert Medical School.

The new COBRE will focus on cartilage and joint health, disease mechanisms and repair strategies, according to center director and principal investigator Qian Chen, director of cell and molecular biology and head of orthopedic biology at Rhode Island Hospital. He is also a professor of medical science and the Michael G. Ehrlich Professor in Orthopedic Research at Alpert Medical School.

“The aging of the baby boom generation and soaring obesity rates mean we can expect to see a sharp increase in the number of patients with osteoarthritis and other joint diseases,” said Chen. “That’s why it’s critical that we not only expand our search for new and better treatments for joint diseases, but that we also recruit and mentor the next generation of orthopedic researchers, which our COBRE award allows us to do.”

Chen will lead a multidisciplinary team that includes researchers from the departments of orthopedics, emergency medicine, pediatrics, medicine and bioengineering at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University. Specific research projects will focus on how long bones are built up during skeletal development, how joint cartilage degenerates in adult joint diseases, and how to repair and rebuild healthy cartilage joint.

“This grant is proof positive that collaboration in science advances knowledge and improves lives,” said Eli Y. Adashi, M.D., dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown. “Investigators from five distinct disciplines – who work at both the bench and the bedside – are joining forces to better understand arthritis and other common musculoskeletal diseases. This collaboration, this bridge between Brown and a major Lifespan partner, Rhode Island Hospital, will benefit the public by producing better methods of treatment and prevention.”

The COBRE grant will primarily support these research projects, although some funds will go toward equipment, supplies and for renovating existing laboratories and research space at Rhode Island Hospital.

“This $11-million federal grant speaks volumes about the world-class talent at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University,” Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said. “Not only will this grant enable Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University to develop cutting-edge biomedical research, it will also enhance the quality of life for those who suffer from chronic joint diseases. With these two institutions joining forces, I have every confidence that this grant will lead to great medical advances, breakthrough discoveries and important new preventative strategies.”

“I am pleased that RIH is receiving this $11.1 million in federal aid to establish the Center for Biomedical Research Excellence for Skeletal Health and Repair here in Providence. This COBRE grant is a recognition of Rhode Island Hospital’s groundbreaking achievements and dedicated staff,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a member of both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee which oversees federal spending of NIH programs. “This federal investment will allow Dr. Chen and his team to develop biomedical research that will help prevent and treat joint diseases such as osteoarthritis. Their work has the potential to improve the health and lives of millions of Americans who suffer from these common chronic illnesses.”

“Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University continue to take the lead on innovative medical research aimed at helping to improve the quality of life for all Americans,” said Rep. Patrick Kennedy. “This grant represents a substantial investment in not only treatment, but perhaps more importantly preventative medicine, to address common chronic illnesses that impact the lives of millions.”

“I commend Rhode Island Hospital for securing this $11.1-million grant from NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, especially at a time when financial resources are scarce and competition nationally is fierce,” said Rep. Jim Langevin. “The research undertaken with this funding has the potential to help many Rhode Islanders and others across the nation who live with some of life’s most painful and debilitating joint diseases. I look forward to learning more about this COBRE’s development and growth in the coming years.”

“This grant will improve lives, reaffirm the city’s position as an emerging biotech center and strengthen our local economy,” said Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline. “This is a win for everyone, from the world-class researchers at Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital to the community at large.”

The COBRE program supports multidisciplinary centers, each concentrating on one general area of research. COBREs are a component of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which aims to increase the research capability of states with historically low success rates of obtaining NIH grants.

Each COBRE includes a principal investigator with established credentials relevant to the center’s research theme; three to five individual research projects that share that theme and are supervised by a single junior investigator; and a development and mentoring plan that will prepare these investigators to secure competitive federal research funding.

“The NIH funding will provide core research facilities and essential mentoring that will enable clinicians to work side-by-side with basic research scientists, junior investigators with senior investigators, and biologists with bioengineers,” said NCRR Deputy Director Louise Ramm. “This approach exemplifies translational research at its best and will spur discovery to more quickly bring cures and treatments to patients who need them.”

Rhode Island Hospital received its first COBRE grant in 2002. That award led to the establishment of the state’s first-ever Center for Cancer Research Development aimed at providing new investigators with the guidance, financial support and front line research technologies they need to make the breakthrough discoveries that will lead to improved methods for diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Brown was among the first universities in the United States to establish a COBRE, receiving its first $11-million grant in 2000 to fund molecular genetics research. That grant built Rhode Island's first genomics facility and its first transgenic facility and contributed to more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, including work that identified new targets for cancer drugs and new insights into brain development and fertility. Brown received its second COBRE grant in 2005, an $11-million award for genomics-based cancer research that allows scientists to explore how cancer develops and spreads. The goal of much of the work is to map complex gene interactions and pinpoint genes that may be potential treatment targets.

About Rhode Island Hospital

Founded in 1863, Rhode Island Hospital is a private, not-for-profit hospital and is the largest teaching hospital of Alpert Medical School. A major trauma center for southeastern New England, the hospital is dedicated to being on the cutting edge of medicine and research. Rhode Island Hospital ranks 13th among independent hospitals that receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, with research awards of more than $27 million annually. Many of its physicians are recognized as leaders in their respective fields of cancer, cardiology, diabetes, orthopedics and minimally invasive surgery. The hospital’s pediatrics wing, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, has pioneered numerous procedures and is at the forefront of fetal surgery, orthopedics and pediatric neurosurgery. Rhode Island Hospital is a founding member of the Lifespan health system.

About Brown University

Brown University is an internationally known Ivy League institution with a distinctive undergraduate academic curriculum, outstanding faculty, state-of-the-art research facilities, and a tradition of innovative and rigorous multidisciplinary study. Brown offers nearly 100 programs of study to its approximately 7,190 undergraduate, graduate, and medical students and has a firm commitment to academic excellence and diversity in its student population. The University adheres to a collaborative university-college model in which faculty are as committed to teaching as they are to research, embracing a curriculum that requires students to be architects of their education.

In 2004, Brown publicly launched its Plan for Academic Enrichment, which is designed to strengthen educational opportunities and significantly increase the number of faculty, add more courses and research opportunities for undergraduates, improve support for graduate and medical education, and invest in libraries, information technology and new academic space.