Assistant Professors receive Biomedical Research Awards from Boettcher Foundation

Julia Trowbridge

The Boettcher Foundation, a Colorado scholarship organization that champions the potential of Colorado students and professors, offers a Biomedical Research Grant. Assistant professors, towards the beginning of their research career, are nominated by their department, where they then write a project summary and progress through the selection process. The assistant professors with the most potential and the most revolutionary ideas are selected for the grant.

Two assistant professors at Colorado State University, Kelley Santangelo and Erin Nishimura, were selected to receive this year’s grant.

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Assistant Professor Kelly Santangelo (Photo courtesy of Kelly Santangelo)

Assistant Professor Kelly Santangelo

Assistant Professor Kelly Santangelo works in clinical pathology and received the grant for her research in post-traumatic osteoarthritis, which focuses on military-related injuries.

“The goal of my research is to maintain functional and pain-free mobility for all species,” Santangelo said. “We take motion for granted until it’s inhibited.”

Post-traumatic osteoarthritis is a breakdown of cartilage and other assistive joint tissues after injury. Trauma releases cell debris that incites inflammation, predominantly through Toll-like receptor 4, a transmembrane protein involved in immunity.

Over time, this inflammation and structural damage leads to irreversible degeneration, which results in this condition. To study this, Santangelo uses rodent models with ACL ruptures to look at clinically approved medicines to test their effects on disease onset and progression.

Santangelo said she did not always think that she wouldd end up studying post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

“When I was an undergraduate, I wanted to be a horse vet,” Santangelo said. “But, while in vet school, I became interested in the ‘why’ of diseases, and thought I could create a broader impact on the lives of animals through research.”

Santangelo said she became passionate about the importance of mobility and improving the quality of life as people are living longer. She is honored to receive this grant and to be able to focus more on her research, rather than writing proposals to grants.

“My research is very dear to my heart,” Santangelo said. “I’m exceedingly honored to receive this transformational grant, and am grateful for the support that Colorado State has made in my career and the future careers of my graduate students.”

Assistant Professor Erin Nishimura (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

Assistant Professor Erin Nishimura

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Assistant Professor Erin Nishimura works in the Biochemistry and the Molecular Biology department at Colorado State University. She received the grant for her research in the genetic code that determines a cell’s identity.

“I research how a cell’s identity arises, and what happens if a cell’s identity is lost,” Nishimura said. “An example of a cell losing its identity is cancer. When a cell fails to progress, it keeps multiplying and making more of those cells, which is cancerous.”

A living being originates from one cell: a zygote. From there, cells undergo rapid rounds of division and differentiation. It is understood that certain genes are turned on at different times, but the the missing piece is which proteins activate which genes that result in each different type of cell.

This process is a complex and interconnected network. To study this, Nishimura uses a worm model, C elegans, because of the shorter life span and the simplified cell differentiation that they have compared to humans.

Nishimura has studied similar questions in the past, but what she’s studying now is the heart of her interest.

“I’ve always been interested in developmental biology,” Nishimura said. “Biology is very complex. Inherited traits and how a genome is activated translates into the looks and functions of animals and human beings.”

Nishimura’s lab has been running for around eighteen months and has grown in numbers. Nishimura said she has loved working at CSU.

“I enjoy how collaborative everyone is,” Nishimura said. “My research has benefitted from friendships and collaborations with other professors. It’s been incredibly satisfying.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @chapin_jules.