CSU researchers awarded $1.8 million grant

Nataleah Small

For many researchers at Colorado State University, funding is a large barrier for research. The application process is highly competitive and once grant money is allotted, researchers are unable to deviate from their original research topic.

Now, with a new grant, three researchers will have more flexibility to pursue multiple avenues within their field of study.

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Earlier this semester, three researchers from Colorado State University were granted Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH).

 

Professors Taiowa Montgomery, Timothy Stasevich and Juan Lucas Arugeso were each granted $1.8 million to fund their research for the next five years.

Arugeso, an associate professor in the department of environmental and radiological health sciences, said MIRA is unique because its structure differs from traditional research grants.

“Instead of investigating in a specific project, (MIRA) will invest in specific scientists,” Argueso said.

This is the first time the NIH has awarded this type of grant, Argueso said.

Often, Argueso said, by the time grant money is allotted, researchers have already conducted most their research and end up using their award to tie up loose ends instead of exploring new ideas.

“(It) locks people into avenues they have to pursue until the end,” Argueso said.

In contrast, the MIRA application does not require the researcher to provide preliminary data to prove their claim. Instead, researchers must outline their area of study and argue why their research is important.

Montgomery, an assistant professor in the department of biology, said awards are allocated based on the merit of the research scientist and the importance to the question they are pursuing.

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The three researchers are currently using their grants to fund their research and are seeking out post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate research assistants to work in their labs.

Montgomery is using the grant to conduct research for his project titled, “Mechanism and Function of C. elegans microRNAs in Drug Resistance, Pathogen Defense, Fecundity and Development.”

The purpose of Montgomery’s research is to answer how genes are turned on or off at the right time. The current focus of his research is on the role micro-RNAs, a small non-coding RNA molecule, in turning off genes or down regulating their expression during development.

Montgomery said he hopes his research will help scientists understand how organisms respond to environmental stimuli, how they protect themselves against toxins in the environment and how they respond to disease.

“It’s such a simple, fundamental question, but it’s such a challenging question,” Montgomery said.

He also hopes his research will lead to a breakthrough in the basic understanding of molecular processes and can be applied by clinicians and applied researchers to help create better treatments for diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Stasevich, assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, is using the grant to fund his project titled, “Quantifying Gene Regulation by Histone Modification with High Spatiotemporal Resolution In Vivo.”

The purpose of Stasevich’s research is to discover whether epigenetic histone modifications, a type of chemical modification, cause gene modifications.

To answer this question, Stasevich plans to use probes he previously developed to observe cells and learn whether chemistry has an impact on which genes are turned on and off.

One direct application of these findings is in the field of cancer research. Stasevich said he would like to learn whether epigenetics plays a role in the in the production of the Myc oncogene. Myc is a cancer causing gene that does not need to be mutated to be over expressed but must be turned on to promote tumor growth.

Argueso is using the grant to fund his project titled, “Mechanisms and Phenotypic Consequences of Structural Genomic Variation.”

The purpose of Argueso’s research is to study what causes mutations, specifically copy number variations, in the chromosome structure.

Copy number variation refers to either the over or under-representation of a copy of a gene. Too many or too few copies of a gene can lead to cellular imbalances like autism, Arugueso said.

By conducting his research, Arugueso said he hopes to fill a knowledge gap to see how certain diseases are influenced by copy number changes.

Argueso and his colleagues are excited about the future implications of their research and the freedom MIRA gives him to make new discoveries in the process.

“The great thing about the MIRA grant is it gives researchers more flexibility to pursue new avenues of research as they emerge,” Montgomery said.

Collegian writer Nataleah Small can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @NataleahJoy.