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If you happened to walk through Mantor hall in the past few weeks, you may have noticed something unusual... read more

Runnin' with the big dogs: INBRE grant allows undergrads research experience
Brie Maaske
Antelope Staff
Photo by Debbie Epping
Becky Fusby, a senior chemistry major from Kearney, applied for the INBRE scholar program to gain experience in the lab and make networking connections. She is working on a baculovirus expression system using insect cells to express full-length protein in a newly revamped tissue culture lab in Bruner Hall.

Since 2002, UNK has been able to do research alongside larger universities in the state including the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Creighton University Medical Center.

This work is possible through the INBRE grant, a grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to UNK and nine other colleges and universities across Nebraska.

The grant allows recipients to purchase equipment and other necessities needed to perform biomedical research and create facilities for the research.

Biomedical research looks at problems in biology that have some kind of medical connection. “This can be actually pretty broad. So you’re going to use your biological tools to study medically relevant questions,” said Dr. Kim Carlson, associate professor in the biology department and UNK INBRE grant coordinator.

Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Charles Bicak, was a part of the formation of the INBRE grant in 2000. Bicak says it was clear to him and to others in natural sciences in Bruner Hall, particularly in biology, that the significant costs for molecular research needed outside funding. “We would have to look outside or beyond the so called state-aided budget. We would need other resources that could be provided by the NU system budget, which of course comes from the Nebraska Legislature,” Bicak said.

The INBRE grant is awarded every five years, and UNK was just approved for refunding and will have the grant until at least 2014. The NIH puts out a call for INBRE applications with a very specific set of instructions. The faculty writes a research project, including background information, current results, specific aims or goals for the project and a budget.

The INBRE grant actually comes from the NIH in Washington, D.C. to the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), where it is housed and maintained by the primary investigator of the grant, Dr. Jim Turpen. UNMC then subcontracts the part of the grant awarded to the biology department at UNK.

“At UNK, we get $1.25 million over five years, but we have to manage that on our campus, so the biology secretary, Judy Kuebler, and Kayla James in the finance office actually manage that part for us,” Carlson said.

It is actually the faculty who utilizes the INBRE grant to work on their research. “The students though, get a stipend to do research. They are awarded $2,400 for the academic year and $3,400 for the summer to do research on a project that we had funded through the program,” Carlson said.

Carlson says student researchers must be in the second semester of their sophomore year, and it is preferred they have completed organic chemistry. Students fill out an application, submit their transcript and have to write a statement on why they are interested in doing biomedical research. “Then we do interviews, and we pick three students who we think will progress through the program,” Carlson said.

“The goal is to try to get students interested in doing research as a profession, but we take people who go into pre-med, pre-occupational therapy. It really depends. We try not to limit the program,” Carlson said.

The grant allows the biology department to have equipment to do research that otherwise would have never been financially possible—like the new Real Time Thermocycler, which cost $75,000. “I have one room that all of the equipment— everything in that room, is completely paid for by INBRE to do tissue culture, which we never had before,” Carlson said.

In addition, because of the grant, the students get to travel to research seminars. The money from the INBRE grant allows the professors to take students on trips to conferences and meetings related to their research. “We just went to the Sigma Xi meeting, which is our scientific research honorary. I took a student down there, and we got to meet the Myth Busters,” Carlson said.

The grant allows a great deal of in-depth research to be done at UNK, but it also helps attract and keep students here. One of the focuses, in addition to the experiences for UNK students, was also to give them opportunities to stay in Nebraska. “When you think of UNMC, typically students on UNK’s campus think pre-med,” but Bicak says they want to encourage Ph.D. medical researchers as well. “By way of the NIH, the idea was to have our undergraduate students recognize that indeed yes, you can become a physician, but there is a significant amount of research that goes on at UNMC.”

“Although it is very nice for our students to go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore or Stanford in California, if there is indeed the recognition of that kind of opportunity here in Nebraska, as well as some undergraduate experience in research, students know that they can in fact, stay here,” Bicak said.

With the money from the INBRE grant, UNK is able to have the equipment and abilities to compete with larger schools and offer undergraduate students opportunities that normally aren’t available to them. “We have facilities in some ways that the big research institutes have, and we’re able to allow our students to learn how to be trained to do research on that level before they go to the next level,” Carlson said.

Carlson mentions a former INBRE student, who attended a national seminar, and how impressed the ‘big names’ in the field were with her research experience. “And they said, ‘What year are you in your graduate program?’  And she says, ‘Oh, I am a senior in college. I’m an undergrad student. I’ve been working on this for two years,’” Carlson said.

 “It’s not about students doing a project just to fulfill a requirement. They can actually do research that’s part of a bigger picture of something else that makes an impact. They’re doing high caliber research,” Carlson said.

“UNK has a huge undergraduate research focus—which is truly unique. We have all of these programs for undergraduates to do research, and INBRE really plays right into the mission that UNK has,” Carlson said.

The INBRE grant’s impact on undergraduate students can be seen on campus every year, especially around this time. “My current senior INBRE student is going on graduate school interviews, and she has interviewed all over the United States. She’s interviewed at Johns Hopkins, Baylor College of Medicine, University of Virginia, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Brown University. There is a whole host of them. She’s already been accepted at many of these schools. A lot of it is because of her grades, yes, but also her research experience and what she has done and what she has been able to accomplish,” Carlson said.

That student is Becky Fusby, a senior chemistry major with an emphasis in molecular biology from Kearney. “INBRE has provided me with invaluable experience that has made me a top applicant for graduate school. I have developed personal relationships with my professors from working on my research project that has allowed them to write outstanding letters of recommendation,” Fusby said.

Fusby spent 10 weeks researching structural biology, specializing in X-ray crystallography and protein purification at UNMC, and has worked in Carlson’s lab using her knowledge of protein purification.

Fusby plans to go to graduate school and receive her Ph.D. in a biomedical related field of research. After receiving her Ph.D. she hopes to become a professor and run her own lab.


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