The University of Wyoming is establishing a new biomedical research center focusing on sensory biology with a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Growing the Sensory Biology Center will allow UW to hire four new faculty members, said Qian-Quan Sun, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, who will serve as the new center’s director.

“The main mission of the (center) is to foster and conduct high quality scientific research that will advance understanding of the sensory system and brain disorders related to the sensory system basically,” Sun said. “The (new center) is an interdisciplinary center.”

Of the four faculty, UW has started recruiting for two — one each in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health Sciences, he said. The center plans to hire the other two faculty members for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“Within the center, we will have four new faculty hired,” Sun said. “Each of them will bring a new project to the center. So, the center will expand its horizons in terms of type of research in sensory biology.”

Supported by an National Institutes of Health grant, the center will be focused on research into understanding and curing diseases.

For now, the center is more an interdisciplinary initiative than a physical location, but space is being set aside for scientists conducting research under the center’s banner.

“We have two new labs assigned to us and (they’re) located in the Biological Sciences Building of the UW main campus,” Sun said. “This is the core facility that would house the instrumentation for investigators.”

The NIH grant allows for a Phase I Center of Biomedical Research Excellence and supports five years of development and research. By the end of the grant, Sun said he hopes to apply for Phase II and III grants, which would bring in $20 million and allow for a combined 10 years of support.

“The goal is, toward the end of the five years, we would have built a center that would have already made contributions and expanded significantly in the area of sensory biology research,” he said.

While renovation of the labs has not yet started, Sun said some faculty attached to the center have already begun their research. This includes four interrelated projects headed by Kara Pratt, associate professor of zoology and physiology; Stephen Santoro, assistant professor of zoology and physiology; Jared Bushman, assistant professor of pharmaceutical science in the School of Pharmacy; and Baskaran Thyagarajan, associate professor of pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.

As the center hires new faculty, new projects will join the roster, expanding the scope of — and growing — the center. Sun said the center also plans to hire 10 graduate students and five full-time support staff.

“This is a time when the college and the university administration is trying to rebuild some of the losses we had associated with the budget crisis,” Sun said. “So, this opportunity is really fantastic for us.”

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