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MSMU Awarded Research Grant

October 15, 2019

(From left) Mount students Alissa Oakes and Arleen Lamba work together in a campus lab on the NIH-funded research project.
(From left) Mount students Alissa Oakes and Arleen Lamba work together in a campus lab on the NIH-funded research project.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a fourth R15 Academic Research Enhancement Awards grant to Mount Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount University to advance research findings on a potential therapeutic formula that could prevent chronic diabetes from progressing. The three-year $407,000 grant will make it possible for MSMU research students to continue their study on naturally occurring peptides that prevent pancreatic beta-cell toxicity common in type 2 diabetes.

“It’s exciting to know that we’re being funded again,” said Dr. Luiza Nogaj, MSMU Professor of Biological Sciences. “This grant will enable us to continue our research on finding a solution for beta cell loss common in a chronic form of diabetes.”

This latest grant is the largest yet for this ongoing research project, with the Mount officially surpassing $1.2 million in total NIH grant funding as a Co-Principal Investigator for this study. NIH grants are one of the most competitive and difficult science grants to be awarded.

As part of the research project, Dr. Nogaj and her team of students will work in their campus lab throughout the year to discover why beta cells die when exposed to a cluster of a small peptide called amylin. Once they determine how this mass affects beta cell damage, her team will experiment with naturally occurring peptides to examine their effects on protecting the body from beta cell loss. Preliminary test findings have already shown that some of the peptides prevent amyloid formation, potentially preventing the progression of type 2 diabetes.

“Essentially what this means is that Dr. Nogaj’s work is genuinely on the verge of finding a significant solution to type 2 diabetes and potentially has applications to other protein aggregation diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and certain kinds of cancers,” said Dr. Jennifer Chotiner, MSMU Biological Sciences Department Chair. “It also continues the tremendous impact that Dr. Nogaj’s lab has had on advancing our students, our communities and the Mount at large.”

While the Mount research students will work on examining the effect of the natural peptides on beta cells, the Loyola Marymount research team is tasked with testing these compounds in vitro.

Dr. Nogaj says that she’s hopeful their research findings will become an important discovery in medical science. She also agrees that the study serves as an invaluable learning experience for the students. “This project is such a wonderful opportunity for our students because it gives them hands-on experience on how the process of scientific discovery works.”