Campus News

NIH grant to support science training for pre-doctoral students

UGA researchers have received a five-year $850,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a glycoscience training program for pre-doctoral graduate students that will help train a new generation of carbohydrate researchers.

The award makes UGA one of only 26 NIH-funded universities to offer specialized training designed to bridge gaps between biology and chemistry, and it is the only program focused especially on the science of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates, more commonly known as glycans, cover the surface of every living cell in the human body-allowing those cells to communicate, replicate and survive. But they also are involved in the development and spread of many diseases, including cancer, viral and bacterial infections, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.

“UGA is home to a powerful glycoscience research program, so our faculty are uniquely qualified to lead this new initiative,” said Michael Pierce, Distinguished Research Professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-principal investigator for the project. “This field is revolutionizing our understanding of fundamental biological processes and disease treatment, and we need to support rigorous training for new generations of researchers.”

The training program will bring together 17 faculty members to mentor the incoming students who, in addition to their regular coursework in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, will receive special training in glycomics. Students also will participate in specially designed courses, public seminars and an annual retreat.

Glycoscience is the foundation of numerous research initiatives at UGA, and technologies that harness an understanding of complex carbohydrates have applications in fields as diverse as cancer treatment and bioenergy.

“This really is an excellent opportunity for students to work on cutting-edge research projects, and it will give them the tools they need to prepare for careers in a variety of fields,” said Geert-Jan Boons, co-principal investigator and UGA Distinguished Professor in Biochemical Sciences. “Our funding supports the students for two years, but they will remain members of the program as long as they are actively enrolled at the university, so their access to faculty and resources does not go away.”

The first class of four students will matriculate in the spring semester of 2015, followed by another class of five students the next year. After the first five-year term of the grant, researchers expect to have about 20 students in the program.

“While funding is limited to a few students each year, this program will provide opportunities for all graduate students in chemistry and life sciences, who will be able to participate in new courses and seminars alongside funded students,” Pierce said. “We’re very excited about the possibilities of this program, and we think it will go a long way toward expanding glycoscience in Georgia and beyond.”