Ian Meng, Ph.D.,  is director of the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence at UNE. The COBRE was recently awarded more than $5 million to help it continue to research and develop new therapies for pain treatmant. Courtesy Photo/University of New England

BIDDEFORD — The Center of Biomedical Research Excellence for the Study of Pain and Sensory Function at the University of New England has received more than $5 million to continue its research in the studies of pain and new ways to treat it.

The five-year, $5.17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health supports the third and final phase of the COBRE’s establishment, which will cement the center, located on the Biddeford campus, as a place for research and an industry resource across Maine and New England, UNE officials said. This latest grant brings total federal support for the center to more than $25 million.

COBRE-funded research at UNE significantly contributes to the scientific understanding of the neurobiology of chronic pain, facilitating the discovery and development of new therapies, including new, non-opioid drugs and other non-pharmaceutical treatment options, a UNE spokesman said.

The center’s primary focus is to support junior scientists as they establish independent research programs, and in recent years the center has formed several external partnerships in industry and health care, bolstering development in those sectors. A UNE spokesman cited Corning and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute as examples.

“It is a major goal of the COBRE program to be a part of workforce training for Maine and also to be a valuable research tool that is not just internal to UNE,” said Ian Meng, Ph.D., director of the COBRE at UNE. “We want people outside UNE to see the COBRE as something that can help boost not just research at UNE but also boost the economy and biomedical science community in Maine.”

COBRE was first established in 2012 with funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

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Since its inception, the COBRE has provided more than 600 one-on-one research core training sessions for undergraduate students; given more than 90 undergraduates experience in a neuroscience research lab; produced more than 85 research publications listing UNE students as authors on peer-reviewed publications; and supported 191 peer-reviewed research publications, according to UNE.

Over the past 10 years, several COBRE-funded junior faculty have gone on to receive their own grants to further support pain research. Recently, Benjamin Harrison, B.Sc., Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and nutrition, received $1.8 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the NIH, to develop non-opioid pain treatments through reducing the activity of pain-sensing neurons called “nociceptors.”

Harrison said without support from UNE’s COBRE, his research would not have come to fruition.

“The COBRE allowed me to come work at UNE, set up a lab, hire a team, get all the materials and instrumentation needed to conduct my experiments, and apply for independent funding,” Harrison said. “If it weren’t for the COBRE, I quite simply wouldn’t be at UNE, and there’s no way I would have had the support that I have.”