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NMU wins two separate three-year grants for research

March 30, 2009
By Miriam Moeller, Journal Staff Writer

Marquette - Two groups of health researchers at Northern Michigan University received major financial boosts in 2008.

NMU won two separate three-year grants: $60,000 for influenza vaccine research from the Merck Institute for Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and $185,000 for research on schizophrenia drugs from the National Institutes of Mental Health.

"In my laboratory we are interested in the early immune response against acute infection viruses such as influenza," said Osvaldo Lopez, NMU biology professor, who is the lead researcher for the influenza vaccine. "My lab will produce the cells that are producing antibodies against influenza in a way that we can culture them by using biotechnological tools."

Article Photos

Adam Prus, psychology professor at Northern Michigan University, received a $185,000 grant for research on schizophrenia drugs from the National Institutes of Mental Health. (Adam Prus photo)

He said that other professors from both the NMU biology and chemistry departments as well as members of Marquette General Health System's molecular diagnostic laboratory will join in the research.

The NMU research will investigate how "marginal zone B" or MZ B cells in mice respond to influenza infection. Undergraduate and graduate students will participate in the research, Lopez said.

Nicolas Lopez-Hisijos, an NMU junior pre-med major, said he'll be working on analyzing the Vh gene - found in the MZ B cells of the spleen.

"I will be doing this because it has been discovered that there are correlations between mutations in the Vh genes and the development of chronic lymphocytic leukemia," he said.

Lopez-Hisijos said he is very excited about the research.

"I hope to get some results which allow me to draw some conclusions on the subject of gene mutations and the prognosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia," he said.

Adam Prus, assistant professor of psychology, will be assessing how a new class of drugs works for treating memory and attention impairments in schizophrenia.

"Last year (2007), I submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Mental Health to study this class of drugs, called neurotensin analogs, because I had preliminary findings demonstrating that they improve memory performance in laboratory rats," Prus said.

The grant, he said, will help him study effects the drug on short-term memory, long-term memory and attention.

"Other studies will be conducted to assess the effects of neurotensin analogs on neurochemical activity in parts of the brain that are important for memory and attention," he said.

Prus' research is important because people who suffer from schizophrenia may not only experience symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, but also show deficits in memory and attention.

"These impairments are a concern, because they have an important impact on quality of life," Prus said. "For example, such cognitive deficits in schizophrenia are linked to a near-total unemployment rate (approximately 95 percent), social isolation, and an inability to conduct normal daily living activities."

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but treatments are available for some of its symptoms.

Prus said there's hope that "finding treatments for the cognitive impairments in schizophrenia will drastically improve quality of life and outpatient success."



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