MELBOURNE, FLA. – The new year began on a high note for Alan Leonard and Julia Grimwade, professors of biological sciences at Florida Institute of Technology, when they learned their National Institutes of Health grant, which they have held for the last 11 years, had been renewed for four more years. The competitive renewal brings them $1,024, 944 to continue their research into the regulation of cell growth and division.
The reproduction of cells from all types of organisms, from bacteria to humans, is tightly regulated to ensure that cells grow and divide only when it is appropriate for them to do so. When the regulation fails, diseases such as cancer can arise.
“We study how cellular proteins and DNA join together to form a very small molecular machine that acts as an ‘on’ switch, telling cells that it is time to begin a new replication cycle,” said Leonard. “Because bacteria have far fewer protein and DNA components acting as cell growth regulators than mammalian cells do, we use the rapidly growing human gut bacterium, Escherichia coli, as a model system. However, the studies should shed light on cell growth regulation in all organisms.”
The researchers hope to use the information they collect about how the switch is assembled to develop inhibitors that would prevent the cellular components from coming together. Such inhibitors could be the precursors to novel antibiotics that would fight bacterial diseases that are resistant to existing therapies, or could even be used to discover new drugs to treat cancer.
The funding will create several new jobs for technical support personnel, as well as provide support for doctoral students who are completing their training in the lab.