2008-02-01 / Health

UMDNJ researcher receives prestigious MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health

An expert in the metabolic processes of DNA at UMDNJ-RobertWood Johnson Medical School has received a prestigious $2.5 million MERIT Award,Method to Extend Research in Time, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).The grant provides longterm funding to Smita Patel,Ph.D.,professor of biochemistry, in support of her research into gene transcription,or how genetic information is transferred from mitochondrial DNA to RNA, the molecules that carry genetic information to protein cells.

Mitochondria are responsible for processing oxygen and converting substances from foods that are consumed into energy for essential cell functions.The inability of the mitochondria to complete the chemical processes creates an energy crisis, causing improper cell function.Mitochondrial defects are seen in neuromuscular and skeletal disorders such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases; the defects also appear in human aging.

"The financial support from the NIH through the MERITAward allows me to pursue new avenues of research,one of which is to understand how mitochondrial DNA is transcribed.We are planning to use multiple biophysical approaches to investigate this problem leading to a predictive and quantitative model,"said Dr.Patel. "The research can then be used to manage diseases related to mitochondrial defects in humans."

According to Dr.Patel, the research also has implications in infectious diseases and may be used to develop antiparasitic therapies to treat malaria,and leishmaniais,an infectious disease transmitted by sand flies.

The MERITAward program was initiated by the National Institutes of Health in 1986.Since that time, the MERITAward has become a symbol of scientific achievement in the research community.MERIT Awards are offered to a limited number of investigators who have demonstrated superior competence and outstanding productivity during their previous research endeavors and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner in the future.

Dr.Patel's MERITAward allows her to continue investigating fundamental mechanisms in gene expression and transcription, a crucial step in cell growth and development, for another five to 10 years.

About UMDNJ-RobertWood Johnson

Medical School

As one of the nation's leading comprehensive medical schools,UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education, research,health care delivery,and the promotion of community health. In cooperation with RobertWood Johnson University Hospital, the medical school's principal affiliate, they comprise New Jersey's premier academic medical center. In addition,RobertWood Johnson Medical School has 34 other hospital affiliates and ambulatory care sites throughout the region.

As one of the eight schools of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with 2,500 full-time and volunteer faculty,RobertWood Johnson Medical School encompasses 22 basic science and clinical departments,hosts centers and institutes includingThe Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, the Center forAdvanced Biotechnology and Medicine, the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute,and the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey.The medical school maintains educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels for more than 1,500 students on its campuses in New Brunswick,Piscataway and Camden, and provides continuing education courses for health-care professionals and community education programs.

Return to top