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UAlbany Biologist Receives $1.43 Million NIH Award for Germline Research to Find Therapies for Cancer and Degenerative Diseases

Prashanth Rangan at work with a colleague in his RNA Institute laboratory. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 4, 2014) — University at Albany biologist Prashanth Rangan has received a $1.43 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his research into both preventing and inducing differentiation in stem cells in order to treat cancers and degenerative diseases.

Rangan, who last month was named a 2014 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences for outstanding work as a young scientist, is exploring how stem cells control their differentiation by using the Drosophila germline stem cells (GSCs) as a model system. Loss of stem cell regulation can result in both degenerative diseases and cancer.

GSCs provide an extensive understanding of the molecular basis of stem cell regulation. Rangan calls them “the ultimate stem cells” because they are both totipotent — having the capacity to form an entire organism — and immortal. Thus, paradigms established in the germline can be extended to other stem cell systems.

“Drosophila is a superior model system to study questions about stem cell self-renewal and differentiation because of the availability of mutants, markers, RNAi technology and targeted expression methods,” he said.

Rangan’s research at UAlbany will allow him to intervene in the correct cell type and block specific targets to promote or block differentiation. He believes the ability to prevent premature differentiation in degenerative diseases, or to induce differentiation in case of cancer, will have tremendous therapeutic impact.

The current award, which runs through July of 2019, comes from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which supports basic research to increase understanding of biological processes and lay foundations for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Rangan conducts much of his research in the advanced facilities of The RNA Institute at UAlbany, which is directed by Dr. Paul Agris. Agris said the research support Rangan is receiving this year is particularly notable.

“Due to economic pressures that have resulted in many fewer dollars for basic research, it is quite difficult today for a young investigator to be awarded a significant NIH grant early in their career,” said Agris. “Since joining The RNA Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences at UAlbany in 2012, Dr. Rangan has demonstrated the creativity to attract both a prestigious Pew Scholar award and now a substantial NIH grant.”

"This grant allows us to understand the biology of stem cells, which can help with design of therapeutics for regenerative therapy,” said Rangan “I am also especially excited about training undergraduate and graduate students working on the project, thereby providing them with a solid foundation for scientific research. The excellent environment and facilities at both the RNA institute and Department of Biological Sciences will help us achieve new insights and push the boundaries."

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