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Two Emmanuel biology professors received a three-year, $357,300 grant from the National Institutes of Health for neuroimmunology research conducted with undergraduate students.
Two Emmanuel biology professors recently received a three-year, $357,300 grant from the National Institutes of Health for the project, "Function of hematopoietically-derived myeloid precursors to the central nervous system immune cell population."
The funding will support research being done by the College's faculty and student-run Neuroimmunology Research Project (NIRP). NIRP was founded in 2005, when now Associate Professor and Department Chair Josef Kurtz, an immunologist, and Associate Professor Todd Williams, a neurobiologist, were searching for common ground in their respective fields of biology. The link turned out to be two populations of immune cells of which little is known or understood: bone marrow-derived cells that infiltrate the central nervous system (CNS) and resident CNS microglial cells that act as the main form of defense for the brain and spinal cord.
In the years since, Kurtz and Williams, along with a select group of undergraduates, have investigated the interplay between the immune and central nervous systems by comparing the functions and contributions of these cell populations. A better understanding of this interaction between the systems could uncover new treatment methods for neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The successful proposal is especially noteworthy, given a national research funding landscape of fierce competition and historically low resources.
"Our approach is truly interdisciplinary," Kurtz said of what may have set NIRP's proposal apart from so many others. "That, together with a unique educational component, the engagement of undergraduate students, is what makes this project stand out."
"All of the research on this project, all of the work, happened right here at Emmanuel," Williams added. "These aren't studies that we brought in with us."
NIRP alumni certainly paved the way for the current team of student researchers who will benefit from the grant, but they left Emmanuel with experience and theses that hold up at the graduate level. Many are now building impressive resumes in the scientific world as practicing physicians, professors and students in prestigious Ph.D. programs.