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PROVIDENCE – Prominent local researcher and University of Rhode Island professor Dr. Anne S. De Groot has been awarded a $13 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health.

It is the second large NIH grant awarded to URI researchers in recent months. In May, a pharmacy professor received an $18 million award.

De Groot, who joined the faculty of URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences six months ago and directs the school’s Institute for Immunology and Informatics, will use the grant to support research into the development and application of an integrated gene-to-vaccine program. It will target emerging infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C, Helicobacter pylori and engineered biowarfare/bioterror agents.

De Groot said the new Translational Immunology Research and Accelerated Vaccine Development (TRIAD) program will integrate vaccine design studies in silico (via computer simulation) with in vitro and in vivo research. She will be working with two URI colleagues, Thomas Mather and Lenny Moise; Steve Moss and Steve Gregory, both of Lifespan Corp.; and Bill Martin of EpiVax, the biotechnology company of which De Groot is president.

“This grant is a dream come true,” De Groot said in a statement. “The TRIAD grant provides a team of researchers based right here in Rhode Island with the exciting opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and to teach the next generation of scientists to use tools that are accelerating the development of vaccines and therapeutics.”

Peter Alfonso, URI’s vice president for research and economic development, said: “Dr. De Groot’s research has regional and national importance not only because it will lead to a significant reduction in the time and cost to create new vaccines against a host of emerging
infection diseases, such as Lyme disease, which is rampant in Rhode Island, but also because it makes considerable contribution to Rhode Island’s economic development efforts in two important ways; first, through the creation of technologies and products that have commercial value, and second, through the creation of a highly-skilled work force that is absolutely essential for our economic well-being.”

The NIH grant also will fund a training course and pilot grants for researchers interested in using new vaccine design tools developed by De Groot and Martin. The first training session is scheduled to take place Aug. 24 to 26 at URI’s Providence Biotechnology Center.

It also will allow De Groot to hire eight new staff members for the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, and it will result in new hires at affiliated research centers.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., praised the school’s efforts. “I commend URI for their efforts to accelerate the development of safer, more efficient vaccines,” he said in a statement. “This federal funding will boost critical vaccine research to help protect public health against emerging infectious diseases. It will also provide critically important educational opportunities to further expand Rhode Island’s health care and biotech work force.”