U of I Receives Over $11 Million to Launch Research Center in Women’s Nutrition and Health

Newswise — MOSCOW, Idaho — April 10, 2024 — The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded University of Idaho more than $11 million toward creating a biomedical research center focused on furthering studies on women’s health and nutrition.

Shelley McGuire, professor of nutrition and director of the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), recently received confirmation of her successful application for the NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant and will serve as project director and principal investigator. McGuire, a maternal-infant nutritionist with expertise in breastfeeding and lactation, was recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

“It’s going to bolster our ability to do high-level, federally funded research on a topic that should be important to every single human,” McGuire said. “We are hoping to have impacts in the state, region and nation.”

American women face a heightened risk of malnutrition — 12% struggle with anemia while 60% are overweight. Malnutrition is an especially serious problem in Idaho, where 12% of the general population is food insecure, compared with 10% nationally.

“The whole topic of health and nutrition in women is important from early life, through breastfeeding, through pregnancy and all the way until women get older when we have a higher risk of poor health outcomes like osteoporosis and specific types of cancer,” McGuire said.

The COBRE will span five years, retroactive to Jan. 1, in its initial phase, and U of I will be eligible to apply for two additional five-year phases of funding. Furthermore, researchers from any U of I college will be eligible to apply for up to $100,000 per year in combined funds for relevant pilot projects, and McGuire has already received inquiries about the opportunity from faculty members in four colleges.

The funds will cover two administrative staff members and four new faculty positions — two FCS faculty members, a health psychologist within the Department of Psychology and Communication Studies and an expert at analyzing large datasets or data related to nutrition and women’s health within the Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science.

The COBRE names three initial research project leaders:

  • Yimin Chen, an assistant professor in FCS specializing in maternal nutrition and human milk composition, will study the impact of postpartum vitamin D supplementation on maternal depression.
  • Ginny Lane, an assistant professor in FCS specializing in community and global nutrition, will study type 2 diabetes among Hispanic women living in Idaho.
  • Ann Brown, an associate professor of exercise physiology and associate dean of graduate studies in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, will study the health ramifications for women, including college-age athletes, of having a normal body weight but still carrying excess fat tissue similar to that of an obese person.

The COBRE’s administrative team will also include Mark McGuire, university distinguished professor and associate dean of research and director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, and Janet Williams, a senior research scientist with the Department of Animal, Veterinary and Food Sciences, who will oversee a nutrition analytics lab developed for the program.

COBRE research project leaders will receive leadership training.

“My vision is that all of these people will end up in leadership roles, and they will become a voice in academic leadership that considers rigorous research and women’s health on a daily basis,” McGuire said.

The COBRE program supports the establishment and development of innovative, state-of-the-art biomedical and behavioral research centers at institutions in states with historically poor success at landing NIH awards. Idaho ranks 49th among states at obtaining NIH funds.

McGuire’s COBRE represents the fourth COBRE in U of I’s history. U of I has one other active COBRE — the Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation — which is in its ninth year and is run by Holly Wichman, a university distinguished professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Nutrition and Women’s Health is funded with a five-year, $11,183,222 grant, of which 100% is the federal share, through the National Institute of Health under award number 1P20GM152304-01.

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