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Researcher receives $1.9M Maximizing Investigators' Research Award from NIH

Photo of Dr. Michael Washburn

August 22, 2022

Michael Washburn, PhD, professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, is a recipient of the prestigious Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The five-year, $1.9 million grant will fund his work studying a protein associated with the development of cancer and other diseases. The goal of the MIRA program is to provide investigators with greater stability and flexibility to pursue important breakthroughs. 

Dr. Washburn centers his research on expanding our knowledge of complex biological systems and how proteins interact. With this project, he is focusing on protein Sin3, which belongs to several large multiprotein complexes involved in chromatin remodeling. In its mutated form, Sin3 is thought to be involved in processes that can cause cells to turn cancerous and grow and spread in the body. For example, Sin3 is a potential driver in the development of uterine corpus endometrial cancer (UCEC), one of the most common female cancers.

According to Dr. Washburn, who is a member The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology research program, the structure and function of specific complexes in these networks remain poorly understood. 

“There is much we don’t know about the structure and function of Sin3-containing complexes. That limits our ability to develop specific therapeutic interventions in cancer,” Dr. Washburn said. 

Employing a variety of technologies, Dr. Washburn and his team will study how Sin3 complexes are assembled and how they function, as well as develop methods to disrupt the protein-protein interactions in these complexes. In the future, such a technology could be used to develop therapies that target specific protein-protein interactions that cause cancer.

Basic research like Dr. Washburn’s builds on the foundational knowledge needed to develop new cancer therapies. It can take years before these findings are realized in the clinic, but all major advances in the treatment of cancer start with basic research discoveries. 

“The methods we develop will lay the groundwork for future projects,” Dr. Washburn said. “They will have broad application across many cancer types, including cancers of the breast and head and neck.”

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