UNC researcher receives EUREKA award from NIH

September 16, 2008 — Brian D. Strahl, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, is one of 38 scientists nationally to receive the first grants in a new federal program called EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration).

The National Institutes of Health program is aimed at funding exceptionally innovative research projects that could have an extraordinarily significant impact on many areas of science.

The program will provide Strahl about $200,000 per year for four years to help test novel, often unconventional hypotheses or tackle major methodological or technical challenges.

Research studies in this first round of EUREKA grants include genomics, proteomics, and messenger RNA, among others.

Strahl’s research involves DNA packaging and how it becomes organized in the nucleus of each cell in the body by Eureka Awarda group of proteins called histones. In order to control this organization and packaging, histones are altered by small chemical modifications. Numerous studies by Strahl and others indicate that these modifications may work together in the form of a “histone code” to regulate DNA activities such as gene expression – the activation and silencing of genes – and DNA repair.

“Defects in the enzymes that modify histones cause a wide variety of human diseases including cancer,” Strahl said. “Evidence also exists to support roles for these enzymes in aging, neurodegeneration, molecular mechanisms regulating drug addiction, and stem cell biology. However, only limited information exists regarding how histone modifications interact with one another to elicit their biological effects on health and disease.”

With the new grant Strahl will develop a high-throughput approach to screen for human proteins known to associate with DNA packaging.

“Our long-term goal is to further understand how the distinct types of modifications known to occur on histones contribute to a possible “histone code” and to human biology and disease,” Strahl said.

Strahl joined the UNC faculty in 2002. He was one of 15 scientists chosen as a 2004 Pew Biomedical Scholar by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of California, San Francisco. In 2003 he also received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and in 2006 he was named a Jefferson-Pilot Fellow in Academic Medicine.

Note: Strahl can be reached at (919) 843-3896 or brian_stahl@med.unc.edu.

Filed under: ,