Kansas University announced Monday that it has received an $11 million, five-year grant that will allow researchers to investigate why people get diseases such as cancer, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Susan Lunte, a professor in the departments of chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry, received the National Institutes of Health grant, which is renewable. She said the funding would be used to pay for more staffing and new equipment, and it will allow KU to partner with researchers from other state universities who are interested in the genetics of diseases.
“It’s to grow the research enterprise in Kansas,” said Lunte, who has worked at KU for 25 years and is director of the Adams Institute for Bioanalytical Chemistry. “It’s pretty exciting.”
She said the funding would support disease-related research that’s already taking place at KU. For example, she said, chemistry professor Michael Johnson has been studying Huntington’s disease, a hereditary degenerative brain disorder that slowly diminishes an individual’s ability to walk, talk and reason. It is estimated that 30,000 people have the disease nationwide, including 600 in Kansas. Johnson has developed a method to look at neurotransmitter releases in mice.
“He can look at the differences between a normal rat and one with Huntington’s and he’s looking at what’s causing the differences in dopamine releases between them and could he find something that would fix it,” Lunte said.
She said the grant also would help researchers who are looking at the genetics of cancer using zebrafish and neurodegeneration in worms that are the size of a small strand of hair. “These worms only survive a couple of weeks, so you can really speed up and see what’s going on,” Lunte said.
She said the grant brings together faculty who are developing technologies to investigate why people get sick. They will meet at least monthly to discuss their innovative ideas, new projects and more grant possibilities. KU hopes the funding will attract faculty in areas related to health research.
The grant created the third NIH-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, or COBRE, at KU. The others are the Center for Cancer Experimental Therapeutics, which was started 13 years ago, and the Center in Protein Structure and Function, which began 10 years ago.