Lewis lands DNA research grant from National Institute of Health

By Marc Speir
University News Service
April 25, 2007

Kevin Lewis, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Texas State University-San Marcos, recently received a federal grant in the amount of $217,000 from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Lewis’ research will study the effects of aging in chromosomes and attempt to discover ways to fight cancer and combat the wearing down of the body as it ages.

He will examine what happens to aging cells as the ends of their chromosomes deteriorate and form chromosomal aberrations. The project will also identify genetic and external conditions that may lead to differences in the aging of cell structures.

Shrinking of chromosomes has been linked to a loss of protective protein complexes at the ends of chromosome and a higher risk for cancer.

Lewis will use yeast cells to impersonate the actions of human cells and compare the lengths of yeast chromosomes by reconstructing an enzyme present in cells called telomere, a region of highly repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome that functions as a disposable buffer.

“A subset of genes under study encode proteins similar to human proteins previously implicated in a number of human diseases including cancer,” Lewis writes on his website. “Understanding these processes and the multiple pathways involved in DNA repair and telomere maintenance are major goals of current research in the lab.”

Funding for the grant arrived after five proposal submissions by Lewis, illustrating the NIH’s reputation as one of the most competitive grant-awarding agencies.

“They are the major funder of biological research in America and possibly the world,” said Lewis.

His 50-page prospectus was evaluated by a panel of experts to assess merit and stature and was selected as one of only 10 percent of proposals on average that are given an Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) grant.

“There is an increasing demand for research at Texas State,” said Lewis. “Ever since our new president, provost and dean of science (arrived), we have really changed our emphasis.”

A standard NIH grant requires a three or five-year project to allow scientists time to properly evaluate their conclusions. Lewis’ three-year project will begin this month and will finish in April 2010.