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UAlbany Recognized with Four SUNY Health Network of Excellence Grants

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 25, 2015) -- University at Albany researchers have been chosen as co-recipients on four of the six State University of New York Health Network of Excellence grants announced today. The awards, which provide a total of $600,000 in funding, aim to break new ground in critical areas including biotechnology, life sciences and public health.

RNA Institute
The RNA Institute's Maria Basanta Sanchez, left, is among those helping to address retinal degenerative disease through the SUNY Health Network of Excellence grants. (Photo Paul Miller)

Seven UAlbany researchers will collaborate with SUNY colleagues on grants of $150,000 each for the following studies:

  • Designing novel patentable drugs and delivery systems to treat cardiovascular disease (SUNY Downstate Medical Center, UAlbany and University at Buffalo);
  • Advancing new therapeutics for treating glaucoma, macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases (Buffalo, UAlbany, Downstate Medical and Upstate Medical University);
  • Conducting a comprehensive study of the chronic outcomes of Lyme Disease using the New York State Department of Health patient database (Stony Brook University and UAlbany); and
  • Improving primary care delivery to high-risk children to reduce health disparities (Stony Brook, Buffalo, Upstate Medical, UAlbany and Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health).

"University at Albany scientists are examining diseases and conditions that pose daunting challenges to society," said James Dias, Vice President for Research at UAlbany. "The awards today showcase not only how faculty at UAlbany are having a transformative impact in life sciences research, but how institutional collaboration benefits not only the SUNY system but the lives of all New York State residents."

The RNA Institute has been recognized with two of the four UAlbany grants. Institute Director Paul F. Agris is the collaborating principal investigator (PI) for both projects: “Designing new miR-30c mimics and delivery systems to treat cardiovascular disease” and “Optimizing Hammerhead Ribozyme Therapeutics for Retinal Degenerative Diseases.”

Agris is also one of three researchers on the study aimed at treating cardiovascular disease, along with PIs M. Mahmood Hussain, professor of cell biology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and G. Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, assistant professor of chemistry at University at Buffalo.

In addition to Agris, four other RNA Institute-affiliated researchers are co-investigators on the study addressing retinal degenerative disease. The PI is John M. Sullivan, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University at Buffalo. The research groups include: RNA Institute senior research scientists Ken Halvorsen and Maria Basanta Sanchez; Pan T.X. Li, Institute faculty member and associate professor, UAlbany Department of Biological Sciences; and Michael Zuker, Institute adjunct professor and professor of mathematical sciences and biology at RPI.

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Bryon Backenson will assist Stony Brook Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics Jorge Benach on the study of Lyme Disease. Backenson, who teaches infectious disease at UAlbany's School of Public Health, is also the deputy director of NYSDOH's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control.

Associate Professor of Health Policy, Management and Behavior Jennifer Manganello will leverage her expertise in health literacy to assist Dr. Susmita Pati of Stony Brook with developing a conceptual model for tailoring pediatric preventive care services in order to improve primary care delivery to high-risk children in New York. Dr. Pati is an associate professor of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine.

The SUNY Networks of Excellence, launched in fall 2013, assembles scientists, scholars, and external partners from SUNY campuses to conduct collaborative research in high demand areas.

SUNY Health is one of the six SUNY Networks of Excellence. The remaining Networks are SUNY 4E (Energy, Environment, Economics and Education), SUNY Brain, SUNY Materials and Advanced Manufacturing, SUNY Arts and Humanities, and SUNY Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

To date, the SUNY Health Network of Excellence has invested $1.8 million in a variety of areas, including clinical applications of 3D printing, treatments for degenerative and infectious diseases, biosensors, big data, health disparities and aging.

"The health of New Yorkers is essential to our economic success and no other organization, public or private, can address New York’s health challenges as powerfully as SUNY," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "Because of our system’s vast size, scope, and diversity, SUNY has an unmatched ability to foster groundbreaking research, discover new technologies and support New York’s health care industry by educating thousands of students each year for medical, dental, nursing, public health, optometry, pharmacy, research, paramedicine, allied health, and biomedical careers. Congratulations to all of the partners receiving this support."

Visit "SUNY Health Network of Excellence Awards $900,000 for Research Into Lyme Disease, Pain Management, & More" to learn more about all six SUNY Health Networks of Excellence grants.

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About the University at Albany
A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.