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UND event works toward 'grand challenges' enshrined in strategic plan

Andrew Haffner

It's like speed dating, but for research grants.

That's part of the idea for a Tuesday UND Discovery Grand Challenge event planned to bring researchers together with representatives from multiple federal agencies. But unlike most rounds of speed dating, the networking researchers already know they have a common interest with those on the other side of the table—in this case, rural health and related social issues.

The event works toward advancing one of five research-based "grand challenges" enshrined in UND's strategic plan. Those challenges, which are intended to outline research areas broad enough to prompt collaboration between diverse areas of campus, also include the topics of energy security, unmanned aerial systems, big data and a more general health research area that includes biomedical sciences.

Each of those five challenge areas is headed by a UND leader tasked with championing their research sector and promoting work within it. In the case of rural health, that leader is Thomasine Heitkamp, professor in the UND College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. Heitkamp noted in a UND press release that her discovery event is scheduled during National Rural Health Week and is featuring "some great presenters coming a significant distance" to help kick off the day's programming.

The release stated that attendees will gain classroom resources, ideas for funding streams and workforce development opportunities. They'll also get a chance to meet federal Region 8 representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and subsections of the Department of Health and Human Services, a set including the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The event will also host representatives from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

The morning portion of the event schedule is given over to introductory remarks from the agency representatives before a panel discussion hosted by a UND professor. After that, attendees can engage in a speed networking session to swap ideas with the agency guests.

The event is scheduled from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Nov. 14, at the Gorecki Alumni Center.

Meanwhile, a UND biomedical sciences researcher has already been awarded funds from a large federal grant. According to a separate UND press release, assistant professor Sergei Nechaev has received the first piece of a three-year grant from the DHS and the National Institutes of Health that will provide a total of $521,000 to fund cancer-related research.

Nechaev investigates how RNA—a structure that helps to carry out the genetic message coded into DNA—influences if and when cells become cancerous. He says RNA in a tumor can serve as a marker that tells researchers which genes played a role in creating the cancer, a piece of information that can be useful in coming up with effective treatments.

The grant will fund the development of technology to help researchers better study RNA taken from old or degraded genetic samples that might otherwise be of limited use. If that effort is successful, Nechaev says the technology could be applied beyond cancer research to analyze RNA in other fields of study.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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