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Chemistry Professor Receives $231,950 Grant for Novel Biomedical Project

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As part of the federal government’s economic stimulus program, the National Institutes of Health put out a call for research proposals that were “of high risk, but that would yield high benefits.” Their goal was to inject money into research projects that could be completed in a short period of time to see whether or not they have long-term promise.

A record 20,000 proposals were submitted and only 200 – just one percent – were funded.

A Southwestern chemistry professor is among the researchers who will be working on one of these projects.

Lynn Guziec, assistant professor of chemistry, will receive $231,950 over the next two years to work with a colleague at The University of Texas at Austin on a project that could enable physicians to detect diseases earlier and more easily than current methods.

Guziec and Jennifer Brodbelt, a professor of chemistry at UT, came up with the idea for a new technique to detect biomarkers, which are small molecules that are characteristic of certain diseases. For example, an amino acid known as sarcosine is characteristic of prostate cancer. Another amino acid known as homocysteine is characteristic of blood vessel inflammation, which can lead to heart attacks.

“These biomarkers have been known to exist for a long time, but researchers have never developed methods that would allow physicians to detect them easily or quickly,” Guziec said.

Their idea is to prepare special compounds to trap these biomarkers and then use a mass spectrometer to detect them, because each has a different molecular weight.

“This is a very unique idea,” Guziec said. “If it pans out, it will be a quick way to determine if these biomarkers are present. I’m very happy to be a part of it.”

Guziec’s role in the project will be to design and synthesize the compounds that can trap the biomarkers. Such compounds have never been made before.

Guziec said $30,000 of the money coming to Southwestern will be used to purchase a new instrument for high pressure liquid chromatography, which can separate compounds by polarity. Southwestern already has one such instrument, but Guziec said that the new instrument will be of research quality and dedicated to the project.

Some of the money coming to Southwestern will be used to hire a postdoctoral research associate to help Guziec with her work. Guziec’s husband, Frank Guziec, a professor of chemistry at Southwestern, will also assist with making the compounds.

The total amount that Guziec and Brodbelt are receiving is $734,068.

This is the second NIH grant in two years that Guziec and Brodbelt have received.

In 2008, the two received a received a four-year, $1,113,615 grant to evaluate a new technique that could rapidly predict the anti-cancer activity of new compounds.

Although the work has been difficult, the Guziecs have already published two papers in this area with Brodbelt’s research group, and a number of others are on the horizon.