Professor Robert Fairman
Robert Fairman Receives NIH Award
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Professor of Biology Robert Fairman a $350,612 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) for his project, “In vivo and crude extract analysis of polyQ aggregation intermediates.” AREA grants are meant to stimulate biomedical and behavioral research opportunities for scientists and institutions that are otherwise unlikely to participate extensively in NIH research programs. Fairman’s project uses animal models to study the protein misfolding and aggregation that results in Huntington’s disease.
“Proteins are known to assemble to very precise structures in order to assume their correct biological function, but on occasion proteins can go down an errant pathway of assembly that leads to aggregation and disease,” says Fairman. “Huntington’s disease is distinguished from other diseases in that we know precisely the amino acid sequence that is responsible. … Ultimately, this aggregation process is highly influenced by the cellular context in which it is found, so to directly study aggregation in a living animal would most closely mimic the situation in humans. Recently developed technology allows us to pursue such questions in ways that could not have been done before, so my technical expertise, along with the availability of the appropriate technology in the laboratory of a collaborator at the University of New Hampshire, makes such questions now more easily accessible.”
The AREA grant, which will fund three years of Fairman’s work, will support the salary of a research assistant, travel to his collaborator’s facilities in New Hampshire, and the equipment and materials needed for the experiments. The animal models that Fairman is using include a worm and a fruit fly, and the grant will also fund the incubators and microscopes needed to support, maintain and study them. Several students are working in Fairman’s lab on different aspects of this project, including Zachary Smith ’13, Sydney Hyder ’13, Nabeel Akhtar ’13, Katie Ulrich ’14, and Franklin Garcia ’16. Additionally, Fairman’s biology department colleagues Professor Philip Meneely and Assistant Professor Rachel Hoang are consulting on the project.
“Scientific research is a hugely collaborative affair,” says Fairman, who was also recently named associate provost for faculty development and support. “In addition to thanking Phil and Rachel, I would particularly like to thank Bashkim Kokona, who is a research associate who has been with me for nine years now. I was fortunate to spend my leave year last year working in the [University of Pennsylvania] laboratory of Nancy Bonini, to learn how to work with flies, and this past summer, in the [University of Colorado Boulder] laboratory of Chris Link to learn how to work with worms. I am incredibly indebted to them for their support and willingness to collaborate."