National Institutes of Health grant $7 mil to CSUN

Christina Eddings

Ongoing scientific research conducted by several CSUN science professors was rewarded with a $7 million grant under the Support for Continuous Research Excellence Program from the National Institutes of Health. A gift of $85,000 was also provided by CSUN.

According to biology professor Maria Elena Zavala, who has taught at CSUN for 18 years, this is not the first NIH grant awarded to the university. The money will help to further the research agendas proposed by the professors, enhance research opportunities for minority students and build the university’s reputation as a learning-centered institution.

The winning proposals ranged from the study of dementia, aging and women, genetics, cells, cancer research and the manufacturing of drugs. These are largely biomedical concerns; however, research surrounding race relations and women and aging also delve into a socio-psychological sphere.

Laleh Razani, an assistant professor in psychology who is beginning her sixth year at CSUN, studied the effects of various forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and how they impact the everyday activities in people suffering from the disease. Not only does her research propose to improve the practices of health providers who help these patients, but she and her colleagues are curious about the effects such diseases can have on the family who care for them. Razani will use the grant to fund clinical trials which pay stipends to research assistants – many of them students and volunteer participants. Students who become research assistants may also co-author conference presentations and journal articles, experiences necessary for those pursuing graduate degrees.

“Without this grant, I would not have the time necessary to commit to such a large-scale project,” Razani said. “I imagine it is the same for my fellow faculty.”

Associate chemistry professor Eric Kelson, who has taught at CSUN for 11 years, said he understands the importance of time. In an e-mail interview he said, “We are very happy to have this vital support, but the rush of ? getting the research started has not given us much of a chance to celebrate yet.”

Kelson’s research could affect the public on a grand scale. He is studying the mirror images of drugs, namely the ones that are harmful and have potentially dangerous side effects. He is looking to develop catalysts which allow the manufacture of safer forms of the drugs that is both cost-effective to produce and affordable to people buying the drugs. He says CSUN has already built an academic reputation in readying students for graduate work and this grant will only provide further help.

The NIH is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the largest federal research organization in the United States, with 80 percent of its funding dispersed to institutions with progressive research programs in the form of grants. Part of their $28.8 million budget is allotted for the organization’s SCORE Program.

SCORE was created in 1997 as a means of support for underrepresented minorities in the fields of science. A major requirement for the award is that the university applying must be an institution that serves minority students and has a population of more than 50 percent minorities.

As with any application for financial aid, the NIH grant posed rules and regulations. Thus, Zavala served as a liaison between the professors and NIH, ensuring all proposals upheld the standards of NIH as well as those of CSUN. She worked closely with the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, located on campus, to streamline the goals and objectives the faculty hope to achieve through their studies. The ORSP staff works with faculty in providing support for their research by seeking funding through various agencies.

According to Scott Perez, director of research programs at the ORSP, the budget this year was $1,875,545. The University Corporation, a non-profit company, will work in conjunction with the ORSP to manage the award money, dispersing it evenly over the course of four years.

Although CSUN is not traditionally thought of as a research institution, it is a learning-centered university. Adequate funding aids the professors in remaining current on the ever-evolving scientific fields, which impacts not only the public and the students, but as Zavala explained, “It allows faculty to do what we were trained to ? make discoveries.”