Biochemistry professor receives hefty grant for research started in 1980
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 23:09
Professor of biochemistry Stacia Sower received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for her research in molecular and biomedical endocrinology and neuroendocrinology, which is the study of the brain of basal vertebrates. Basal vertebrates are the oldest lineage of vertebrates, which came out of the Cambrian explosion 550 million years ago.
Lamprey and hagfish have survived, and the basic plan is studied. The pituitary gland has been retained through all vertebrates, including birds, fish and mammals. In lamprey and hagfish the basic plan doesn’t have the evolution of current vertebrates.
Understanding the basic plan allows scientists to understand how the pituitary gland functions today. The knowledge is used for biomedical research and has current application within the field. For instance the hormone lamprey GnRH3 is the most potent anti-proliferative for tumor cells.
The grant is so the pituitary gland can be studied as the base brain structure template.
Sower started her study of the brain of basal vertebrates in 1980 at the University of Washington. Sower has been studying the brain of basal vertebrates for 30 years at UNH. It was a lot of hard work and dedication, Sower said.
When Sower started studying basal vertebrates they were considered too primitive to be useful. Now, after years of publications and recognition, basal vertebrate study has been established.
Sower’s research laboratory at UNH trains undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students in research. It is highly technical research she said.
Techniques change rapidly and students are constantly learning the newest practices. Many students will go on to be doctors. This research experience will help students understand drugs’ side effects and how they work.
Part of why laboratory work is so important is that students get to interact and take part in international collaboration with others, Sower said. She has had students go to Sweden, Australia and Japan.
In May, former student Tim Marquis got to work with professor Masumi Nozaki from Japan for a week.
Marquis went on to medical school for oncology, and Sower said he found the experience of working in the research laboratory extremely helpful. James Garan, one of Sower’s graduate students who have worked in the lab, is in Israel this semester.
“The most rewarding is the excitement of science of going from the unknown to the known and working [and] training with my collaborators, students and other lab personnel through the years,” Sower said. “Many close friendships have developed over many years with my collaborators and former students.”
Sower was told in December of 2012 that she had won the grant, which was originally worth $1 million, but only received $750,000 because 25 percent of the original grant amount was cut due to sequestration.
Getting grants is very difficult in this funding environment, Sower said. In addition, the National Science Foundation grant is a very difficult grant to obtain.
To get a grant, one has to be very productive and have top-tier articles published in peer-reviewed journals.
Even when one meets these goals, it is hard to get funded. In this current environment, though, Sower doesn’t think that it will get any easier to receive funding for a while.