News & Announcements

$2.8 million NIH Grant Funds Research Into Fatal Movement Disorders

photo of Amanda Woerman

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Creighton University in Omaha have received a five-year, $2.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study the molecular mechanisms underlying multiple system atrophy (MSA), one in a group of fatal neurodegenerative movement disorders.

The research by lead investigator Amanda Woerman, assistant professor of biology in the UMass Amherst College of Natural Sciences, and Jason Bartz, professor and chair of medical microbiology and immunology at Creighton University, may also advance understanding of the biochemical roots of Parkinson’s disease and other synucleinopathies, which affect more than 6.8 million Americans.

In her years of research into the complexities of MSA, Woerman remains driven by the hope that her work will help lead to treatments.

“As a scientist, you have to be studying something that you find incredibly compelling,” she says. “I really can’t think of anything that I care more about in science than trying to alleviate the suffering that these patients and their families are going through.” Read more

Neurobiologist Collaborates in Research to Develop New Treatment Technology for Alzheimer’s Disease

photo of Jenny Rauch

Jennifer Rauch, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, is collaborating on a two-year, $700,000 National Institutes of Health grant to develop a new technology to treat Alzheimer’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Rauch will be working with grant recipient Novoron Bioscience, a San Diego-based biotechnology company that seeks to develop therapies to reverse central nervous system damage, and Kenneth Kosik of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in whose neurobiology lab Rauch conducted research as a post-doc.

Based at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, whose mission is to translate science into technologies and services that benefit human health and well-being, the Rauch Lab focuses on the neurodegenerative protein tau, which aggregates in neurofibrillary tangles that are correlated with cognitive decline. With the NIH funding, Novoron will test new technology aimed at reducing the spread of tau by targeting LRP1, a cellular receptor for tau.

Rauch was the first author of a paper published in Nature that described the discovery of the central role of LRP1 in tauopathy. By targeting the molecule that regulates the transport and spread of tau within the brain, Novoron hopes to develop a novel, effective  approach to treat Alzheimer’s disease, which affects some 25 million people worldwide, and other tauopathies. Read more

Timme-Laragy Lab Members Receive NESOT Awards

Doctoral student Madeline Tompach and postdoctoral research associate Emily Marques claimed top prizes at the annual meeting of the Northeast Chapter of the Society of Toxicology (NESOT) held virtually Dec. 1-3, 2021. They are both members of Associate Professor Alicia Timme-Laragy’s lab in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

MCB graduate student Tompach received the Graduate Student Oral Presentation Award, which includes a $1000 prize, for her presentation “Examining PFOS-induced Dyslipidemia and use of α-lipoic acid (ALA) as a Potential Mitigation Strategy in Zebrafish (Danio rerio).” Her research focuses on exposure to the pollutant PFOS which has been demonstrated to alter lipid profiles and stunt embryonic growth. She demonstrated that maternal consumption of the dietary supplement alpha lipoic acid (ALA) partially rescued the detrimental changes in embryonic growth caused by PFOS. Read more

Two UMass Amherst Professors Elected as Fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the preeminent scientific institution in the United States, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, has elected two professors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the newest class of AAAS Fellows, among the most prestigious honors bestowed by the scientific community.

Tricia Serio, associate chancellor for strategic academic planning, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Lynmarie Thompson, director of the Chemistry-Biology Interface Program and professor in the Department of Chemistry, will join 562 other scientists, engineers and innovators from 24 scientific disciplines in this year’s class of AAAS Fellows.

Serio’s research is focused on a particular set of cellular proteins, called “prions,” that can change their shape. When their shape changes, so does their function within the cell, and sometimes these shape-shifting proteins can cause serious illness, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. “What we want to understand,” says Serio, “is why proteins change their shape, and if they can switch in one direction, causing disease, can they switch back to a healthy state?”

Thompson also studies cellular proteins, though the focus of her work is on proteins in the membrane of a cell. Membrane proteins are responsible for many of the cell’s processes, from harnessing energy to communicating with other cells and sensing the environment. Her lab investigates chemotaxis receptors that sense the environment and can direct the swimming of bacteria, and form protein arrays in the membrane that are “symmetrical and beautifully complex,” as Thompson puts it. Membrane proteins are also the targets for a wide range of therapeutic drugs—and yet their structures and mechanisms remain poorly understood.

Serio and Thompson, both of whom are members of the graduate program in molecular and cellular biology at UMass, are also supported by the facilities and intellectual camaraderie of the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments on the UMass Amherst campus to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit human health and well-being. Read more

Liu Named Chair-elect of the American Society for Nutrition Diet and Cancer Section

photo of Zhenhua Liu

Associate Professor of Nutrition Zhenhua Liu has been elected to serve as chair-elect of the diet and cancer research interest section (RIS) of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN). He will serve in this role through the end of June before taking over the position of chair for a one-year term from July 2022 to June 2023.

Members of the ASN Diet and Cancer RIS focus on the impact of nutritional status and dietary factors in cancer development; the role of diet in modulating cellular, biochemical and molecular events associated with carcinogenesis at numerous sites in animal and human models; and the relevance and application of research in the field of cancer chemoprevention.

“It is my great honor to serve for the ASN Diet and Cancer RIS, which is dedicated to bringing together the world’s top researchers, clinical nutritionists, and industry partners to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition for cancer prevention and thereby to reduce the burden of cancer in our society,” says Liu. Read more

$2 Million NIH MIRA Grant Will Support Trailblazing Research in UMass Amherst Lab

photo of Jianhan Chen

Jianhan Chen, a University of Massachusetts Amherst chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology professor, has received a five-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support research in his computational biophysics lab aimed at better understanding the role of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) in biology and human disease.

The grant falls under the National Institute of General Medical Sciences MIRA program, which stands for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award. It’s designed to give highly talented researchers more flexibility and stability to achieve important scientific advances in their labs.

“The MIRA award enables us to continue working on several central problems regarding the study of disordered proteins and dynamic interactions. The flexibility of this funding mechanism also allows us to follow new research directions as they emerge,” Chen says. Read more

UMass Amherst Faculty Members Receive Acorn Innovation Grants

photo of Sloan Siegrist

Sloan Siegrist was one of three faculty who received Acorn Innovation grants of $16,250 each to help them test the viability of their innovations and potentially bring them closer to market.

The Acorn Awards are funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and overseen by MassVentures, the state’s strategic venture capital arm. 

Sloan Siegrist, associate professor the department of microbiolgy, received the grant for her platform technology that uses universal cell surface labelling to rapidly detect bacterial growth and antibiotic susceptibility. Read more

MCB and Graduate Biological Science Programs at UMass Receive High Rankings

graphic of US News and World Report

According to the most recent US News & World Report, MCB and Graduate Biological Science Programs at UMass Amherst are ranked #2 among public universities in New England. In addition, the UMass Graduate Biological Science Programs are ranked #26 in public schools, and #54 overall based on a survey of academics at peer institutions. Read more

Food Scientists Rank High in Updated Global Database

Six of the 12 UMass Amherst food science faculty members are ranked within the top 1.3% of their field in a publicly available, standardized global database, recently updated through 2020, which ranks scientists according to their citations and h-index. Hosted by Elsevier BV and developed by scientists at Elsevier, Scitech Strategies and Stanford using Digital Commons Data, the index measures the impact of a researcher’s scholarship production and performance.                                                        

The list includes the top 100,000 researchers in the world, representing the top 2% of all researchers. The six UMass food scientists included are: David Julian McClements, Eric Decker, Yeonhwa Park, and MCB faculty Lili He, Hang Xiao, and David Sela. Hang Xiao and three additional current faculty are also included in the career list, which covers citations throughout history. Read more

Madeline Tompach receives award for best grad student oral presentation at the Northeast Society of Toxicology meeting

photo of Madeline Tompach

MCB student Madeline Tompach won the Graduate Student Oral Presentation Award at the Northeast Chapter of the Society of Toxicology 2021 Fall Virtual Meeting for her talk entitled, "EXAMINING PFOS-INDUCED DYSLIPIDEMIA AND USE OF α-LIPOIC ACID (ALA) AS A POTENTIAL MITIGATION STRATEGY IN ZEBRAFISH (DANIO RERIO)."

Abstract excerpt:  Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) is an environmental toxicant found ubiquitously in the aquatic environment and drinking water supply. PFOS exposure has been associated with dyslipidemia in human and animal studies, including zebrafish (Danio rerio) where previous work demonstrates that preconception and developmental PFOS exposure alters uptake of the lipid-rich yolk sac (YS) over the first five days of development. This study investigates how PFOS affects YS uptake of palmitate, the most abundant fatty acid in humans and zebrafish, in the developing embryo and explores the use of a dietary supplement, α-lipoic acid (ALA), in preconception exposures to combat PFOS-induced dyslipidemia seen in the offspring.

Congratulations, Madeline! Read more