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Recovery Act/Stimulus Funds Go to Biology Department


Three professors of biological science have received nearly $500,000 in research grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009/Stimulus Funds. They are: William Thornhill, Ph.D., professor of biology and chair of the department; Silvia Finnemann, Ph.D., associate professor of biology; and Gordon Plague, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology.

Thornhill will direct a two-year, $265,000 project titled “Ion Channel Disorder Mechanisms,” which looks at episodic ataxia. The neurological disorder results in a periodic lack of coordination in humans that can come on suddenly and interfere with motor activities, such as walking. The condition is attributed to amino acid mutations in an ion channel that results in disrupted communication between neurons in the brain.

The funds, Thornhill said, will be used to test all 19 different mutations of episodic ataxia. The research will determine whether the disorder is the result of the ion channel not trafficking to the surface cell or whether the channel does not function properly once it is on the cell surface.

“We want to get to the causative problem of the disorder to be able to suggest targeted treatment,” Thornhill said.

Finnemann received a five-year, $99,074 grant to buy equipment that will improve the images visible through the Department of Biological Science’s laser scanning confocal microscopy system. Finnemann said the equipment is critical to the department and to her work on researching the causes of age-related macular degeneration, a major factor in blindness in aging populations. Finnemann’s project is titled “Role of avB5 Integrin in RPD Phagocytosis.”

Plague, an evolutionary biologist, received a two-year, $132,375 administrative supplement grant on his parent grant, titled “Experimental Evolution of Sequence Expansion in Intracellular Bacteria.” The parent project studies how the genome of the E. coli bacteria changes when it transitions from a free-living organism to a pathogen (living on a host). The stimulus money will help fund an assistant in Plague’s lab.

“Part of the federal goal was to create jobs and to retain jobs,” Plague said. “This enables us to keep a Fordham graduate working in our labs.”

All three awards came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


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