Saskia B. Neher, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, was one of twenty-two of America’s most promising scientists to be named Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Neher is the eleventh such recipient for UNC since the program began in 1985 and she is one of 8 women among 22 awardees, overall, nationwide.
The 2012 Pew Scholars will join a select community that includes MacArthur Fellows, recipients of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award and three Nobel Prize winners. The program encourages early-career scientists to advance research that leads to important medical breakthroughs and treatments.
Neher’s research explores the molecular systems that help to activate—and disable—the breakdown of fat. When we consume food rich in fat, molecules called lipases break down the fat so that it can be used as a source of fuel or be stored. In humans, defects in a lipase called LPL increase an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease. The activity of this molecule is regulated by a pair of proteins: one that activates LPL and another that switches it off when an animal fasts. Neher uncovered evidence that suggests how the activating protein functions.
Neher’s work now will be to determine how the regulators of LPL interact, using sophisticated approaches in biochemistry, molecular biology and crystallography. Her research should provide insights into the regulation of an important process that could produce new targets for the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease.
“Pew is pleased to provide this country’s most ambitious and dedicated scientists with timely funding that enables them to explore novel areas of investigation early in their careers, at what may be the most inventive and creative period in their research,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The program has invested more than $125 million to fund over 500 scholars. Recipients receive $240,000 over four years to pursue their research without restriction. Applicants are nominated by an invited institution and demonstrate both excellence and innovation in their research. This year, 179 institutions were requested to nominate a candidate and 134 eligible nominations were received.
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