Newswise — GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May X, 2019) — The McKnight Foundation has awarded Van Andel Research Institute’s (VARI) Juan Du, Ph.D., a three-year, $225,000 Scholar Award to uncover the innerworkings of the body’s intricate and poorly understood temperature regulation system, the first step toward developing new treatments for a host of conditions including fever and pain.
The Scholar Award program supports promising early career neuroscientists who are committed to investigating fundamental problems that, if solved, could have significant impacts in the clinic. Du is one of six awardees from across the U.S.
“It is an absolute honor to be selected for this award, which has facilitated so many groundbreaking discoveries throughout the years,” Du said. “The McKnight Foundation’s support will allow us to take our research to the next level and answer longstanding questions that could have a direct impact on human health.”
The human body, especially the brain, is extremely vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, whether it’s a bad fever or a burn on the skin from touching extremely hot or cold surfaces. It is protected by a host of sensory safeguards that, despite their importance, remain largely mysterious. Du and her team aim to determine how the body responds to temperature-based stimuli and will use their findings to inform development of potential treatments for myriad issues, such as fever, pain and neurodegeneration.
Du is an increasingly recognized authority in structural biology, a field that seeks to determine the architecture of life’s smallest molecular components and that has major implications for the development of new, improved medications. She is an expert in a revolutionary technique called cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, which allows scientists to visualize molecular structures down to the atomic level — about 1/10,000th the width of a human hair.
She joined VARI as an assistant professor in 2017 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Eric Gouaux at Oregon Health & Science University’s prestigious Vollum Institute. Since joining VARI, she and her colleagues have resolved the structures of several major drug targets, including TRPM2, a protein integrally involved in temperature regulation.
ABOUT VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent nonprofit biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 400 scientists, educators and staff. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute’s scientists work in onsite laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Learn more about Van Andel Institute at vai.org.