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Pittsburgh Foundation Awards Grants to Spur Scientific Research

Why can starfish regenerate when they lose arms and humans can’t?

The Pittsburgh Foundation has awarded eight scientific research grants from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation to find answers to questions like these.

Almost $1.6 million will be split among research projects at five Pennsylvania schools: the University of Pittsburgh, Penn Sate, Carnegie Mellon, Drexel and Temple.

The grants are split between two categories: New Investigator and New Initiative.

The New Investigator grants were awarded to innovative faculty investigators who are beginning independent researcher careers.

The researchers will receive $150,000 over a two-year period for projects ranging from “Charges, Forces and Particles in Ionic Liquids” to “Functional Studies of Multidrug Resistance Transporters at Single-Protein Level.”

Graham Hatfull, chair of the foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, said the study of multidrug resistance will look at how “transporters” create resistance to different drugs — especially anti-cancer drugs.

“The idea here is that in the treatment especially of cancers with relatively high doses of anti-cancer drugs our cells commonly develop systems for being able to essentially to get rid of those drugs and therefore become resistant,” Hatfull said.

Hatfull said this is called “multidrug resistant transporters,” and Penn State’s Sheereen Majd will use microscopic systems to look at how these transporters work at a basic level.

The New Initiative projects called for proposals that have a strong collaborative nature to promote interaction between colleagues from different disciplines to find new areas of expertise.

These projects include “Developing a Sea Star Model for Regenerative Biology,” and the researchers will receive around $200,000 to $300,000 over two years.

Hatfull said Carnegie Mellon’s Veronica Hinman’s team is researching the regenerative properties of a starfish.

“The core problem is that we know that if we chop off an arm, the prospects of it growing back are kind of slim…” Hatfull said. “We know that there are other organisms, there are planarian worms for an example, you can cut them in half and both half will grow back and make a full worm, so why can’t we do that?”

Hatfull said the current model systems for regeneration are distantly related from humans, so their application is limited, but the starfish has a phylogenetically relevant system for people to study.

Inspired by the Welch Foundation, chemist and entrepreneur Charles Kaufman left the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Charles E. Kaufman Foundation $40 million when he died to fund new scientific research initiatives.

Kaufman dreamed of funding a Nobel Prize-winner who would help better and understand the human life.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.