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Pacific receives $300,000 NIH grant for biology and chemistry research

Aug 13, 2018

A nearly $300,000 National Institutes of Health research grant for University of the Pacific researchers could lead to more efficient ways of producing proteins used in manufacturing vaccines, insulin and cancer treatments, potentially making the production of therapeutics for diabetes and other ailments less expensive.

  "We're trying to understand the basic mechanism so we can optimize it," said Geoffrey Lin-Cereghino, one of the researchers.
Biology professors Geoffrey and Joan Lin-Cereghino, along with chemistry professor Andreas Franz, work with a yeast called Pichia pastoris, which is used to make proteins of therapeutic and commercial value such as those used to manufacture insulin injected by millions of diabetics in the United States. Specifically, the researchers are trying to understand how the yeast secretes proteins and how to streamline that process.  

The grant will pay for a high-performance liquid chromatograph that allows to separate peptide fragments of the secreted proteins. Such peptide fragments provide valuable information about the protein's original structure and reveal how the yeast cell has structurally modified the protein during biosynthesis.  

In addition to equipment and supplies, the grant will pay stipends for two graduate students and two undergraduates to work in the lab and perform the experiments.  

Students who work on the project during the three summers the grant runs will gain valuable hands-on experience growing yeast cultures, isolating protein the yeast has produced and learning how the mass spectrometer works. The professors said undergraduates rarely get that kind of hands-on biochemical experience at most universities.  

Two graduate students, Henry Le MS'19 and Christopher Naranjo MS'19, are grateful for the opportunity to gain practical experience on a project that has true benefits for people and that makes them more marketable when it comes time to find a job. 

"We are learning techniques that we might use in the real world when we go into biotech industries," said Le. "Just being able to learn this beforehand, it's a very valuable skill that a lot of companies look for. They don't have to teach you. We can just go right into companies and do it right away."   

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