NIH awards $3 million in grants to SU researchers

Faculty researchers from the departments of biology and physics in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences have been awarded $3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. The funding will be used to expand ongoing research to find new ways to treat leukemia and to develop new nanotechnologies that can detect diseases, including cancers, at earlier stages than currently possible.

Liviu Movileanu, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, was awarded more than $1.4 million over five years to further his research in the relatively new field of nanobiotechnology. Liviu's research team engineers protein nanopores that can detect DNA-containing molecules. The grant will enable the team to build experimental prototypes that could potentially be developed into new diagnostic tools for detecting cancers and other disease processes at much earlier stages than currently possible.

Nanopores--which are about 20 times larger than an atom (a trillion could fit on the head of a pin)--are devices in cell membranes through which proteins are transported in and out of cells, one molecule at a time. The process causes a change in tiny electric currents flowing through the nanopore, which are unique to the molecule being transported. This characteristic enables scientists to identify the molecule by its electric signature as it is moving through the nanopore.

Michael Cosgrove, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, was awarded more than $1.5 million to further his research on Mixed Lineage Leukemia proteins (MLL), which help regulate the formation of white blood cells. In normal cells, MLL combines with three other proteins to create a molecular switch that controls the way DNA is packaged when white blood cells are created. A broken MLL switch can prevent white blood cells from properly maturing, which can lead to leukemia.

Learning how to reprogram the way DNA is packaged in cancerous cells is a relatively new idea that scientists believe will lead to better treatments for leukemia and other types of cancers with fewer side effects. Cosgrove's research team is making important contributions to the field by discovering how DNA packaging proteins work in normal cells, and by identifying ways to fix broken MLL switches and reprogram cancerous cells into normal cells.

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