A $248,446 grant will help UW-La Crosse undergraduates and area high school students conduct more research on bacterial infections and diseases that affect neurons in the body.
The large National Science Foundation grant will allow UW-L researchers to add 15 more undergraduates and high school students to their team to conduct more research on diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
UW-L Chemistry Professor Todd Weaver says the grant — his second consecutive for research on neurodegenerative diseases — speaks highly of the project and UW-L. Less than 15 percent of NSF proposals are funded and the host institution must support the project. Weaver says UW-L administrators have built a very supportive environment to conduct meaningful, hypothesis-driven undergraduate research.
“Federally supported research like this is always highly competitive,” notes Weaver. “Even though UW-L is a primarily undergraduate institution, we’re still reviewed and compete among major research universities. So this award speaks highly of the research we conduct.”
Weaver says the initial grant sparked nine UW-L undergraduates to present posters regionally and nationally, along with three who have co-authored an article in a peer-reviewed top-tier scientific journal. Four students have continued doctorate studies at major research universities such as Yale, UW-Madison, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota.
“This second grant will ensure a continued pool of well-trained undergraduate students entering graduate school, professional school, or the Wisconsin workforce,” notes Weaver.
So far the UW-L research has illustrated that some bacterial toxins behave similar to the mis-folded proteins that lead to neurodegenerative disorders. Weaver says this summer’s research will continue a more detailed and directed analysis of the suspected bacterial toxin interface that leads to infection.
“If we can map the toxin interface involved, we may be able to extend this information and develop a general model for routine bacterial infection,” explains Weaver. “Additionally, this model may allow other investigators to apply this knowledge to neurodegenerative disorders.”
Weaver notes that often basic scientific research like this leads to models that can be more broadly applied and tested within other systems.