July 17, 2018
Two researchers with The University of Kansas Cancer Center, Bret Freudenthal, PhD, and Prachee Avasthi, PhD, have received National Institutes of Health Maximizing Investigators' Research Awards (MIRA).
The goal of MIRA is to increase the efficiency of funding from The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) by providing investigators with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs. NIGMS, one of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic research that increases our understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. The MIRA award, commonly referred to as an “R35,” will support each of their research efforts.
Damage to DNA, which can arise from oxidative stress, is the culprit behind many diseases, including cancer. However, its connection remains poorly understood. Dr. Freudenthal and his team will examine mechanistic questions related to DNA damage, DNA repair and human health, focusing on a particular repair pathway that acts as the cells primary defense, warding off damage.
“Our overarching goal is to gain an atomic level understanding of the dynamic interactions that occur during the repair of damaged DNA,” Dr. Freudenthal said. “These findings can provide a foundation for interpreting the biological response to DNA damage, as well as the subsequent development of therapies.”
Dr. Avasthi’s work involves identifying and dissecting new pathways that play a role in the assembly and function of cilia, the hair-like structures that extend from the surface of nearly all human cells. Cilia act as antennae for cells, picking up and responding to signals. When cilia do not grow or function properly, multiple illnesses including kidney disease, blindness or cancer may arise.
“We are leveraging the unique advantages of single-cell organisms, green algae in our case, to uncover fundamental mechanisms of directed protein trafficking and compartmentalization in cilia,” Dr. Avasthi said. “This will allow us to probe not just one specific disease or mutation, but the biological basis for a much broader range of disorders.”
Basic research efforts like Drs. Freudenthal’s and Avasthi’s are central to the drug discovery process. Funding from the R35 will help to fuel efforts to deepen understanding of the basic biology behind cancer and other diseases.
“The R35 award is unique because it takes into account not only the time it takes to pursue scientific breakthroughs, but the flexibility required to achieve these breakthroughs,” Dr. Freudenthal said. “We are excited to see where our efforts will lead us.”