Packard Foundation awards $875,000 grant for gene regulation research

Dr. Yunsun Nam, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Biophysics, has been awarded a 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Dr. Yunsun Nam, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Biophysics, has been awarded a 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

By Remekca Owens

Dr. Yunsun Nam, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Biophysics, has been awarded a 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The foundation recently recognized 16 of the nation’s most innovative young scientists and engineers. Each fellow received a grant of $875,000 over five years.

“I feel honored to have been selected,” Dr. Nam said. “Support from the Packard Foundation allows us to take on riskier, but worthwhile, avenues of research.”

Dr. Nam’s research focuses on identifying and understanding the mechanics of the formation and processing of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). Most of the human genome is used as a template for RNA production, but only a small number of RNAs are used to make protein. The diversity and flexibility of these ncRNAs make them challenging to understand at the molecular level, explained Dr. Nam. They are essential for turning genes on and off, thus determining various cellular processes such as organ regeneration, stem cell maintenance, cancer development, and metabolism.

“Understanding these processes as they relate to gene expression and regulation is also important in the development of drug therapies,” she said.

Dr. Nam earned both her bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences and her Ph.D. in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard University. She later completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Medical School in cell biology, and in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology. At UT Southwestern, Dr. Nam is a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Junior Faculty Recruitment awardee.

“Dr. Nam is an outstanding selection for a Packard Fellowship,” said Dr. W. Lee Kraus, Director of the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences, where Dr. Nam’s laboratory is based. “Her accomplishments and research program embody all of the key elements of the award – creative, forward-thinking, and cutting-edge.”

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation established the fellowships program in 1988 to provide scientists early in their careers with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields of study.  Each year, the foundation invites 50 universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration.

The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of 12 internationally recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees. To date, more than 400 university professors in science and engineering have received Packard Fellowships, totaling more than $230 million.

Dr. Kraus holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Reproductive Biology Sciences.

Dr. Nam is is a Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research.

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