The University of New England has landed a $10.8 million federal grant to research cell signaling, a field of study aimed at helping scientists learn new ways to treat diseases such as dementia, osteoporosis, heart disease and helping older people heal from wounds.

“The results that we get may well have real implications addressing these big challenges,” Derek Molliver, program director for the UNE Center for Cell Signaling Research, said in an interview Thursday after the university announced the grant award.

Breakdowns in the communication between cells, or what’s known as cell signaling, can lead to various diseases. Molliver said the more scientists can learn about how to keep cells communicating with each other, the more potential to help people as they age.

“Cell signaling is fundamental to all biological functions. The more we learn about the biologic mechanisms that cause aging, the more we understand about how they work, the better we can intervene when needed, and hopefully people can be much healthier and active during their older years,” Molliver said. “There’s a tremendous amount of growth in research into aging.”

The five-year, $10.8 million grant will help fund faculty positions, research equipment and a 5,000-square-foot renovation of the Alfond Center for Health Sciences on the university’s Biddeford campus. UNE has campuses in Biddeford and Portland.

UNE already is researching cell signaling, but the grant greatly expands the effort, and Molliver said having the grant could also unlock additional money to help spur the research.


The grant could potentially be renewed to provide as many as 15 years of federal funding through the National Institutes of Health.

The Center for Cell Signaling Research is the second biomedical research program at UNE, following the Center for Pain Research, which was funded in 2012. Molliver said the success of the Center for Pain Research helped UNE earn the $10.8 million grant. The school is the only institute of higher learning in Maine to have two biomedical research centers funded under the NIH’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, UNE said in a statement.

“I am so proud of what biomedical researchers at UNE have accomplished over the last decade, and this award is more evidence of our regional leadership in investigating real-world health issues that are impacting Mainers and Americans every day,” UNE President James Herbert, said in a statement.

The research also supports Maine’s bioscience industry, university officials said. The Bioscience Association of Maine trade group reports that there are nearly 10,000 life sciences jobs in Maine and that the sector that has seen 42% growth in jobs during the past five years in the state.

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