Centers and Programs

Research at the UNM Health Sciences Center takes many forms, from laboratory-based bench science to clinical trials and community-based investigations. This work across the spectrum of societal conditions translates into real benefits for the people we serve.

Taken as a whole, the research mission at the HSC is flourishing. Our scientists continue to make remarkable progress in identifying the causes of disease and exploring new ways to restore health and save lives.

Designated Research Centers, Institutes & Networks

Our CTSC program offers a multitude of assets and resources. We maintain a wide range of services openly available to investigators and research teams, such as a sophisticated clinical research unit, investigator training programs, biomedical informatics tools, genomic technologies, a large scale drug discovery program, a clinical research data warehouse, and commercialization facilitation. This infrastructure enables scientific discover to move more rapidly toward enhancing human health..

For many years, New Mexicans facing cancer had to travel out of state to get quality cancer diagnosis and treatment. No more. The UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center has the talent, resources and technical expertise to give New Mexicans the world-class cancer care they deserve. Our team of doctors and cancer specialists work side-by-side to design individualized treatment plans and deliver them to our patients in a compassionate, culturally-sensitive way.

The Center for Infectious Disease and Immunity (CIDI) was created to develop and enhance collaborative programs among researchers, physicians, and businesses in New Mexico that address the threat of infectious and immunologically mediated diseases in New Mexican populations and the world.

Signature Research Programs

The UNM Brain and Behavioral Health Institute (BBHI) is a signature program under the HSC Office for Research. BBHI’s vision is to become the leading center in the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain States region for brain and behavioral health, through research, education, and community partnership.

The programmatic goals for BBHI are 1) to facilitate or establish effective partnerships between the BBHI and communities throughout New Mexico; 2) develop major new, interdisciplinary brain and behavior research programs; 3) promote cutting-edge neuroscience and behavioral research.

BBHI also home to MRI Core Facility. Core resources include state-of-the-art facilities and services for rodent behavioral testing, animal PET/MRI, optical and electrophysiology, cell and molecular, image analysis, neuropsychological testing and human subjects’ clinical assessment. BBHI’s impact during the past year included 10 mini-grants for faculty members that provided access to UNM Core resources in Domenici Hall. BBHI also facilitated and/or participated in 80+ outreach events & meetings. Some highlights are as follows. BHHI was represented at Brain Behavioral Health Day at the 2019 NM Legislature and Alzheimer’s Advocacy Day at the 2020 NM Legislature in Santa Fe. BBHI hosted a Neuroscience Day as part of the Brain Awareness Week, an international campaign to increase public awareness. The annual event included a full day of activities including scientific poster session, poster competition, scientific lecture, awards ceremony, and community conversation and exhibit information. BBHI and Neurosciences provided numerous speakers for public activities and assisted in the coordination of “Brain: The Inside Story”, a temporary exhibit sponsored by PBS at the NM Natural History Museum during the spring of 2019.

The Signature Program in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease (CVMD) includes basic, clinical, and translational research, as well as population-based outcomes research and community outreach activities. The ENTERPRISE of this program is to support and enhance clinically relevant research questions focusing on Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Renal and Pulmonary Disease. This program aims to enhance collaborative inter-disciplinary scientific interactions within the institution, to increase the level of junior faculty mentorship and support and to promote the development of new areas of research strength.

The CVMD primarily uses annual strategic pilot funding to advance the research opportunities and capabilities of the UNM HSC members. These competitive applications are subjected to a peer-review and reporting process. Approximately 7 applications are reviewed and 3 awarded annually. The reporting process has allowed us to confirm that this investment has been a central factor in the growth of the cardiovascular and metabolic disease research platform at UNM. The CVMD has also implemented an annual research retreat, which brings clinicians and basic scientists together to present their research and brain storm on ways to respond to larger programmatic research opportunities. The CVMD also contributes to our Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease (CMBD) seminar series by hosting renowned scientists as visiting speakers.

CVMD Impact or Recent Discoveries:

  • Novel therapeutic targets for obesity have been identified by studying pathways related to mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling in brown/beige adipocyte differentiation.
  • Adipokine adiponectin is suppressed by obesity and plays a key role in regulating resident group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s), inflammatory response and thermogenic programming in subcutaneous fat as well as in visceral fat.
  • Auto reactivity to self-antigens play a prominent role in hypoxia-induced pulmonary vascular inflammation and pulmonary hypertension.
  • Calcium influx through acid sensing ion channel 1 (ASIC1) contributes to the enhanced pulmonary vasoreactivity present in hypoxic pulmonary hypertension.
  • Bacteria-produced hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a novel gasotransmitter and vasodilator, is elevated in the small bowel of rats fed a high fat diet, contributing to complications in the portal circulation of fatty liver disease.
  • Enabled the discovery of microRNA-mediated mechanisms underlying vascular defects in the brain during prenatal alcohol exposure

CVMD Funding:

In 2005, the signature programs were created. During the past 3 years, CVMD has received $30,000/year. Most of the budget has been used to fund pilot projects (up to $27,000), the remaining to support CMBD, and research retreat with the help of CVMD affiliated Departments. The graph below depicts the funding that UNM HSC received from NHLBI and NIDDK since 2007. The majority of the principal investigators that received these awards are members of CVMD and had used pilot funds obtained from CVMD to generate preliminary data that played a critical role in securing this funding

The Infectious Diseases & Immunity Research Program was created to develop and enhance collaborative programs among researchers, physicians, and businesses in New Mexico that address the threat of infectious and immunologically mediated diseases in New Mexican populations and the world. Our researchers study epidemiologic issues and basic host-pathogen mechanisms. We continue to develop new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and test the preventive, therapeutic and diagnostic efficacy of these discoveries in clinical trials.

Our organization has a global reach, and we collaborate with many organizations to fight diseases, including:

  • Duke University
  • Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • National Center for Genome Resources
  • Research Center of Excellence at University of Texas Medical Branch
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Child Health Research signature program’s enterprise is to improve the health and well-being of New Mexican children through research. We are particularly committed to identifying and fostering the investigation of health issues paramount to New Mexican youth that transcend program specific health foci, including adverse childhood experiences, social determinants of health, and health disparities. By facilitating research collaborations in child health across UNM and HSC schools, departments, and programs, as well as communities, we serve to increase the number, quality, relevance, and impact of scholarly works. Our work also facilitates the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based child health practices in clinical and community settings across New Mexico. A current CHSP area of focus is the systematic collection of formative data focused on adverse childhood experiences that can be used to generate and support extramural programmatic or center grant applications. This includes data from a stakeholder engagement process, as well data harmonization efforts focused on gathering standardized child health clinic and program informatics and standardized measures of the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences across UNM health clinics and programs. The CHSP is funded with tobacco settlement revenue from the State of New Mexico.

The Environmental Health Signature Program (EHSP) at the UNM Health Sciences Center performs basic and translational research on regionally relevant environmental public health issues that address the overall health needs of unique Southwestern communities while contributing to our understanding of global environmental health issues. This program is focused on finding new solutions to the complex environmental health issues, such as exposures to arsenic, uranium mine wastes, and air pollution, and other health disparities that affect New Mexicans. Collaborations with University of New Mexico and Health Sciences faculty aim to develop health interventions that are community-driven, culturally relevant, and sustainable for diverse peoples across New Mexico. EHSP members specifically study environmental health issues affecting people living in New Mexico, the Four Corners Region, and the U.S.-Mexico Border. Importantly, environmental health research at UNM involves extensive collaborative initiatives with many Native American communities and the Navajo Nation. These efforts led to the CDC-funded Navajo Birth Cohort Study, to assess the impact of uranium mining and residual contaminants on neurodevelopmental outcomes.

The EHSP primarily uses strategic pilot funding to advance the research opportunities and capabilities of the UNM HSC members. The competitive application, review, and reporting process has allowed us to confirm that this investment has been a central factor in the growth of the environmental health research platform at UNM. The EHSP has also implemented strategic vision retreats, which helped to bring teams together to respond to larger programmatic research opportunities.

Notable recent discoveries directly supported by the EHSP funding:

  • Arsenic may competitively interact with zinc at the molecular level to inhibit DNA repair
  • Arsenic qualitatively changes the pattern of DNA mutations
  • Microneedle technology is being developed to sample interstitial fluid to assess heavy metal exposures in community settings
  • Microplastics may metabolically reprogram gut macrophages, influencing immunity
  • Arsenic exposure may impair the immunity to tuberculosis following vaccination
  • EHSP funding has also been used to purchase a cigarette smoke generation system which is now converted to study e-cigarette/vaping-related lung and cardiovascular disease

UNM HSC funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has increased ~4x in the past decade – and notably many other major sources of funding support our membership, including a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a major cooperative agreement on Native American Health from the NIH Office of the Director, and the National Cancer Institute. With this growth both in programmatic and individual-level research awards, the EHSP also has the ability to develop early-stage investigators and expand topically to support research on emerging toxicants, such as microplastics, plasticizers, and “forever chemicals”. The EHSP also contributes to inviting external speakers of international renown to our Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease seminar series.

The Cancer Center underwent a rigorous process to achieve its comprehensive designation last summer. The highly sought-after designation recognizes the center’s achievements in four areas: providing integrated cancer diagnosis and treatment, providing access to national clinical trials, conducting world-class cancer research and educating the next generation of cancer health care and scientific professionals. UNM’s cancer research is supported by more than $72 million in annual extramural funding and takes advantage of regional scientific and engineering strengths. Cancer Center scientists collaborate with colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute.

UNM scientists also work with researchers at New Mexico State University. These collaborations have led to breakthroughs in targeted therapies and cancer diagnostics.

The UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center also conducts clinical research. As part of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, it is launching a program to offer patients an opportunity to have their cancer tumors sequenced to benefit not only cancer research but also themselves when newer, better treatments become available.

The Center for Healthcare Equity in Kidney Disease (CHEK-D) is focused on developing and supporting scientists and clinicians in basic, clinical, and translational research to reduce and eliminate disparities in health processes and outcomes related to kidney disease. We partner with dedicated faculty, staff and community leaders on projects to increase healthcare equity in underserved, diverse populations. We align our vision with UNM HSC’s mission for equity and quality improvement by expanding kidney disease clinical treatment options for vulnerable groups. We are also committed to strengthening the UNM HSC’s internal research infrastructure through campus-wide collaboration, professional development, and developing a pipeline of minority trainees through undergraduate, graduate, medical education, and early career faculty.

The Center is administered by the Executive Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences Center through the Office of Research and works side by side with the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Nephrology.

CHEK-D was established by a generous donation from Dialysis Clinic, Inc. (DCI) to UNM HSC to create a disparities research center focused on kidney disease to “significantly and positively influence the impact the research, education, and outreach activities of those faculty pursuing reduction in healthcare and health outcome disparities in the realm of kidney transplants, polycystic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, and other kidney-related conditions.”

Extramurally Funded Centers & Institutes

The Brain Vascular Malformation Consortium project attempts to differentiate between healthy successful aging versus normal aging, or aging accompanied by disease processes such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Both types of aging targets prefrontal cortex. Multimodal imaging measures (DTI, MEG, morphometrics) will help delineate the neural circuits that are compromised.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center has joined the Center for Molecular Discovery, a national network of scientists on the leading edge of drug discovery and development in the fight against cancer, centered at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

Prevention of Diabetes Through the Lifestyle Intervention: Lessons Learned from the Diabetes Prevention Program and Outcomes Study and its Translation to Practice.

NMARC is a NIH NIAAA-designated Alcohol Research Center located at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. NMARC is one of just sixteen Alcohol Research Centers in the United States, and the only such center focused on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

A Sexually Transmitted Infection Cooperative Research Center funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

We are proud to be one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 26 Prevention Research Centers and to be recognized as a Center of Excellence.

The Spatio Temporal Modeling Center studies myeloproliferative neoplasms. About 200 people in New Mexico are diagnosed with these blood disorders each year.

Other Centers, Institutes & Networks

The UNM Center on Aging and the UNM Division of Geriatrics have created an educational infrastructure that is penetrating all levels of medical education and it is using existing networks to provide geriatric education to physicians and practices statewide.

The Center for Development and Disability (CDD), established in 1990, is New Mexico's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service (previously known as a UAP).

At the University of New Mexico Center for Disaster Medicine we believe that preparing for and responding to disasters is the responsibility of the whole community. Since 1989, CDM has supported community disaster preparedness through applied disaster research, healthcare disaster planning, emergency preparedness training for responders, and disaster field services.

The Institute for Ethics serves as a resource for ethics in health care and research at the institutional, local, regional, national and international levels. The Institute for Ethics has three domains of activity: education, service and scholarship.

The CFI is currently the only forensic center in the United States with in-house computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facilities, which support forensic research and education, and the clinical service of the OMI.

New Mexico's first center for research and clinical care of patients with Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

We partner with students, staff, faculty, community groups, organizations, and government agencies to develop sustainable solutions and creative pathways for improving the health and well-being of Indigenous people. CNAH approach focuses on community strengths such as local and unique knowledge, core cultural value systems, and health beliefs.

The Institute for Resilience, Health and Justice will work with UNM School of Law graduates to help at-risk families navigate social and economic hardships that may be creating stress and impeding their health

The primary goal of the Health Sciences Center's Center for Brain Recovery and Repair is the development of therapies designed to improve the quality of life for New Mexicans with brain injuries. We aim to develop interventions targeted to specific pathways or mechanisms to improve motor or cognitive function, and be safe and effective when delivered at time points after discharge from the emergency room or intensive care unit.