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NIH grants awarded for high-risk, high-reward research

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Two UT Southwestern faculty members have been awarded prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Awards for high-risk, high-reward research.

Dr. Kendra Frederick, Assistant Professor of Biophysics, and Dr. Prashant Mishra, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and in the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), will each receive $1.5 million as award recipients. Established in 2007, the NIH program supports unusually innovative research by early career investigators.

The New Innovator Awards are among four grant programs for researchers at every career stage that form the NIH Director’s High-Risk, High-Reward series of awards that are supported by the NIH Common Fund.

 

Dr. Kendra Frederick profile image

Dr. Kendra Frederick

 

Dr. Frederick uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study protein structure to better understand diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“I am honored to receive this award that will support our laboratory’s efforts to apply cutting-edge physical chemistry instrumentation to biological systems and problems, which might not normally be funded by traditional grant mechanisms,” said Dr. Frederick, who has additional appointments in UT Southwestern’s Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology.

“We are taking advantage of new technology for NMR spectroscopy to determine protein structures inside of living cells and organisms,” she said. “This is particularly important to do for proteins that can take on different structures in healthy cells versus diseased cells. This work could help us to better understand neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Dr. Frederick joined UT Southwestern in the Endowed Scholars Class of 2015-2019 as a Lupe Murchison Foundation Scholar in Medical Research following postdoctoral work at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in biochemistry and French language and literature and then earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in protein structure, function, and engineering from the University of Paris-Sud. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Dr. Frederick is leading the charge into the next frontier of structural biology – understanding molecular structure and interactions at atomic resolution inside cells,” said Dr. Michael Rosen, Professor and Chair of Biophysics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator. “With her new NMR technology, she will be able to elucidate how protein molecules assemble into fibers, in both healthy and diseased cells, at a level of detail unattainable previously.”

 

Dr. Prashant Mishra profile image

Dr. Prashant Mishra

 

Dr. Mishra develops mouse models to study mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in hopes of discovering new treatments for diseases that currently have limited therapeutic options.

Mutations in mtDNA are found in about 1 in every 5,000 people. Diseases that arise from these mutations are often untreatable, and research into this area is limited by the lack of reliable animal models – something Dr. Mishra hopes to change. His lab is generating mouse models that contain the same genetics and physiology seen in human patients. These models will reveal how the body responds to a mitochondrial mutation and may reveal new treatments for these diseases.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the support from the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award,” said Dr. Mishra, also a member of the Green Center for Systems Biology. “This award confirms the need for new tools and treatment options for diseases caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA, which are both understudied and usually untreatable.”

“Many of the children diagnosed by CRI’s Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program have mutations in their mitochondrial DNA that cause debilitating diseases,” said Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the CRI, Professor of Pediatrics, and an HHMI Investigator. “We recruited Dr. Mishra because we believe he is one of the most deep-thinking young scientists in the area of mitochondrial biology – someone who could help us understand how mitochondrial mutations cause disease.”

Dr. Mishra received his undergraduate degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard University before earning an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biophysics from UT Southwestern’s dual-degree Medical Scientist Training Program. He joined the UTSW faculty in 2015.

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