The National Institutes of Health has announced a five-year, $1.9 million Transformative Research Award to Emory virologist Edward Mocarski, PhD for his work on how the mechanisms of programmed cell death can be subverted.
Mocarski is Robert W. Woodruff professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine and Emory Vaccine Center. His research, which originated in probing how cells commit suicide when taken over by viruses, could lead to advances in regenerative medicine and organ transplant.
The grant, funded through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is one of nineÂ â€œhigh-risk-, high-rewardâ€ Transformative Research Awards (13 recipients) announced by the NIH on October 6.
In the same group this year, Thomas Barker in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering atÂ Georgia Tech and Emory University received a Transformative Research AwardÂ for his research on mechanosensors + pulmonary fibrosis.
TheÂ Transformative Research Award programÂ supports â€œexceptionally innovative, unconventional, paradigm-shifting research projects that are inherently risky and untested.â€ Emory has achieved only one other TRA since the program was established in 2009: Shuming Nie’s project onÂ imaging to guide cancer surgery.
â€œThis Transformative award was made possible because of the creative and engaged graduate students and postdoctoral fellows I have had working with me at Emory,â€ Mocarski says.
In 2011, Mocarski, working with former graduate student William Kaiser and Emory geneticist Tamara Caspary showed that two complementary forms of programmed cell death, necrosis and apoptosis, can beÂ genetically excised from mice, leaving a viable animal with a functioning immune system.
These findings are yielding additional fruit. Mocarskiâ€™s research indicates that cells from these genetically altered mice are unexpectedly malleable, in that they are easier to reprogram into induced pluripotent stem cells. Once reprogrammed, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) can be directed to become cells of almost any tissue, making them promising potential tools for the treatment of many diseases.
The genetically altered mice are also less susceptible to deadly inflammation and more readily accept bone marrow transplants. The Transformative projectâ€™s aims are to exploit these findings and test the ability of drugs that interfere with programmed cell death to facilitate tissue regeneration, iPS cell reprogramming and transplant.