UAF receives $16 million to boost biomedical training

Tanya Clayton


The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received a five-year, $16 million grant to increase the diversity and research capacity of undergraduate students in its biomedical programs.

The grant will expand UAF’s Biomedical Learning and Student Training program, which engages students from diverse backgrounds, especially those from rural Alaska, in biomedical research.

Blast UAF
UAF photo by JR Ancheta Seniors in UAF’s Biomedical Learning and Student Training program gather in September at a kickoff event for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The BLaST program, which began in 2014, is led by Karsten Hueffer, associate dean of veterinary medicine; Arleigh Reynolds, professor of veterinary nutrition and director of the Center for One Health Research; and Michael Castellini, who serves as Graduate School interim dean. The program is funded through the National Institutes of Health Common Fund and administered by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Partners include the UAF College of Rural and Community Development, University of Alaska Southeast, Iḷisaġvik College, Alaska Pacific University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and Salish Kootenai College.

The latest award will fund research experiences for undergraduates, as well as scholarships, equipment and course development.

The BLaST program provides high-quality, holistic mentoring as students progress toward their goals. Students are engaged using the One Health concept, which emphasizes the health-related connections between people, animals and their shared environment in Alaska.

“The idea that the health of the environment and animals is connected to the health of people is something the students can relate to,” said Hueffer. “When we talk to them about whether they are interested in the health of the whales they hunt, the health of the caribou, what berries can do for them, or how traditional medicine can help, they get interested. This One Health idea is a very potent door opener.”

Over the past five years, BLaST has supported mentored research experiences for more than 300 students under the One Health paradigm. Many of these projects have resulted in peer-reviewed publications with undergraduate co-authors.

A resume that includes scientific research publications aids the students as they look for employment or continue their education, Hueffer said.

“There have been quite a few students that have gone on to master’s programs or that now work in biomedical fields,” he said. “And some have gone on to Ph.D. programs, so we have a broad range of students doing a lot of different things.”

BLaST also enhances the learning experience by giving students the chance to study biomedicine while contributing knowledge to it.

Using mentors, research-based instruction and a One Health approach to engage students has worked well, especially in an environment that is dedicated to research and diversity in science. This helps students reach their goals and positions them to meet their communities’ needs.

“We see ourselves as a program that opens doors and helps students go where they want,” said Hueffer. “We’re supportive of whatever the life goals of the students are, and we make sure we do what we can to support them in getting there.”

BLaST is supported by the NIH Common Fund, through the Office of Strategic Coordination, Office of the NIH Director with the linked awards: TL4GM118992, RL5GM118990, UL1GM118991. The content of this news release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.