The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarded a $1.9 million grant to biologist Ming-Hui Zou in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Zou, an internationally recognized researcher in molecular and translational medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, has been named the founding director of the new Center for Molecular and Translational Medicine at Georgia State University. He is also a Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar in Molecular Medicine, the seventh eminent scholar at the university.
Zou has made important breakthroughs in cardiovascular research, and his work has led to the identification of the role of two critical proteins that play a role in vessel pathology leading to vascular diseases. He has been able to characterize a critical enzyme in the regulation of energy metabolism, obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases.
The four-year grant will allow Zou to study the influence of AMPK (5′ adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), a critical molecule in the balance of cellular energy. AMPK takes in glucose, burns fatty acids, and creates new mitochondria, to generate energy for the body.
Mitochondria play a major role in energy production, cell survival, and other critical cellular functions. They are a double membrane-bound organelle found in most eukaryotic cells.
“To fulfil these functions, mitochondria form a highly dynamic network in the majority of cells where they constantly undergo fission to allow for segregation of damaged mitochondria, and fusion to allow exchange of material between healthy mitochondria,” Zou said in a recent news release. “How this process is regulated is poorly characterized.”
Zou will now conduct in vitro experiments to discover critical aspects in the interaction between mitochondria structure and function.
“Our proposed studies will provide new insights into a crucial step in the initiation of cardiovascular disease and whether a new strategy will be discovered to protect against the development of vascular disease in diabetic patients,” he said.
Zou has been awarded eight grants for his research from the National Institutes of Health totaling $21 million through 2019. He has also been granted funds totaling $17 million from other institutions, such as the American Heart Association.