UTMB scientist awarded $150,000 by March of Dimes

April 20th, 2012
The March of Dimes Foundation has chosen University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston assistant professor Muge Kuyumcu-Martinez to receive a two-year, $150,000 Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Award. The grant will support her research on congenital heart defects, the most common type of major birth defect.

"I'm honored and privileged to receive this prestigious award," Kuyumcu-Martinez said. "I'm very thankful to the March of Dimes, and I'm really excited to be able to pursue the research their generosity will make possible."

Kuyumcu-Martinez's lab studies the heart's development from its earliest embryonic stages to adulthood. That process is controlled by changes in the way genes behave, which are themselves guided by complex biochemical signals.

"Certain genes expressed in the embryonic heart are not expressed in the heart of a newborn, and gene expression changes again in the heart of an adult," she said. "Our specific proposal was to study one of the signaling pathways that regulate these changes and sends a signal to the cell to switch from embryonic gene expression to post-natal or neonatal gene expression."

If the signaling pathway in question — known as the protein kinase C pathway— transmits an improper signal, the result can be improper gene expression. For example, the genes of embryonic heart cells can begin behaving as though they were in adult heart cells, producing the wrong proteins for a developing embryonic heart and ultimately causing a heart defect.

The March of Dimes award will enable her to delve deeper into both the protein kinase C pathway and its interactions with genes, using cell-culture and transgenic mouse experiments to produce a much more complete understanding of this important part of the heart-defect picture.

"We really want to understand this process in a more detailed manner," Kuyumcu-Martinez said. "We're very happy that this grant is going to give us a chance to do that."

Provided by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

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