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Biomedical researchers to benefit from $10 million grant

New High-Speed Fiber-Based Telecommunications Network to be Formed

Bozeman, MT - October 8, 2003 - Researchers who live in urban states with high-speed internet connections can do a lot of things that Montana scientists can't do, says Gwen Jacobs, head of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Montana State University-Bozeman.

Across the nation, researchers are building a powerful new research infrastructure that allows scientists around the country to work together in real time, Jacobs said. They have other capabilities that Montana researchers don't even realize.

"These types of activities require high bandwidth, high-speed telecommunications networks," Jacobs said. "We don't have these capabilities in Montana and other rural states, so there are many things that we cannot do."

The situation will improve, however, with the formation of a new high-speed fiber-based telecommunications network for biomedical researchers in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii and Nevada, Jacobs said. MSU-Bozeman has just received a $9.89 million award from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead an effort to develop and implement that network.

The new network, called Lariat, will let scientists and educators take advantage of the wealth of remote research resources, collaborations and expertise that are routinely available to scientists in other areas of the country, said Jacobs who will lead the project with Ron Johnson, Vice President of Computing and Communications and Vice-Provost at the University of Washington.

"Lariat will serve as an instrument supporting educational and research needs and will bring this region, with its highly valuable intellectual capital, more fully into the mainstream of American science and healthcare delivery," Johnson said. "This project will address directly issues of geographical isolation, universal access to resources and be a major step forward towards eliminating the digital divide for these states."

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said, "I am pleased the increases we have worked for at the National Institutes of Health are contributing to improvements in Montana through MSU. High-speed internet and rural telemedicine closes the distances we face in a rural state like Montana, and this will give us the ability to compete on a level playing field with major metropolitan areas."

Burns is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which funds the NIH.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the project will help boost Montana's economy and advance important research at MSU.

"I'm pleased I was able to support funding for this important project," Baucus said. "This award will greatly enhance communication among the participating programs, and it'll help create good-paying jobs while advancing critically important research. This is very good news, and I commend all the folks who have contributed to this project."

Jacobs said the Lariat network is expected to take two to three years to complete and is intended to be a model for future projects elsewhere. It will involve local and national experts in networking and biomedical research, as well as those who head the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) programs in each participating state.

This project will create two types of networks. One will be a fiber-based telecommunications network that will upgrade the internet connectivity of the six participating states. The other will be a research network composed of biomedical researchers whose productivity will be increased through collaboration, training and access to research tools, Jacobs said.

All the institutions involved in this project have developed state-wide networks of researchers that are now linked through activities in the BRIN program, Jacobs said. Four of the institutions are already linked to the University of Washington through the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) Medical Education Program. The other two institutions are members of the Western Tier of rural states.

Evelyn Boswell, MSU Research Office , (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu