Vol 10. Issue 38 / December 13, 2010
Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded Pair of Unconventional Grants
By Eric Sauter
While scientists depend on grants for their research, applying for them is a long and frequently frustrating process. For one Scripps Research Institute scientist, however, the process was shorter.
William Ja, an assistant professor in the Department of Metabolism and Aging who joined the institute's Florida campus in January, was recently awarded an unsolicited grant of $60,000 by the Glenn Foundation, which supports an array of biomedical research with a strong emphasis on aging studies.
Ja said the award was totally unexpected when he was informed of it at a Glenn Foundation meeting for former scholarship winners.
"I had received a small scholarship for summer work in 2004 when I was a graduate student," he said. "As small as it was, it was very important because it gave me the encouragement to make the move from chemistry to biology. You could say it was the seed that started the early stage of my academic career. Still, I was surprised by the invitation [to the foundation's meeting]."
The real surprise came at the end of the meeting when Ja was told he was to receive a $60,000 grant to continue his work in aging. Ja's award, along with several others, was formally announced by the Glenn Foundation on November 2, 2010.
Ja, who was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellow in biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena before joining Scripps Florida, is focused on researching various longevity-enhancing manipulations and their impact on aging and metabolism in Drosophila, the common fruit fly and one of the most widely used laboratory models. Among these manipulations are dietary restriction, and the effects on their hosts of certain types of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract.
The Glenn Awards were initiated in 2007 to provide unsolicited funds to researchers investigating the biology of aging. The grants are to assist scientists where funding shortages threaten to impede scientific progress. Award recipients are selected from nominees provided by an anonymous scientific advisory committee. Applications are not accepted.
A Second Unconventional Grant
Ja has also recently received a two-year grant of approximately $200,000 for the study of non-surgical sterilization methods for dogs and cats. The award, named the Michelson Prize, came from the newly created Found Animals Foundation, a privately funded, non-profit organization dedicated to minimizing shelter euthanasia. Ja was one of the first to apply for it, even though it was outside his previous field of research.
"I saw an advertisement for it while I was still at Caltech and thought it would be an interesting project," he said. "A few of us threw out a bunch of ideas, most of which had been attempted 20 years ago. But I came up with something different, sent it in, and it got favorably reviewed. With a few modifications, we're already working on it."
The project involves using a cytotoxin – a cell killer – to attack the cells critical to reproduction in dogs and cats by targeting the follicle stimulating hormone receptor (FSHR), which is found in certain cells of the sexual organs. Blocking or destroying these cells can lead to infertility.
"What makes this study so interesting," Ja said, "is that we're going to use some of the tools we develop to ask some basic scientific questions, so what we're doing is a nice combination of basic and applied science." The development of the tools, he said, is just as important as finding the right cytotoxin.
"Even if the toxin or the target isn't the right one," he said, "we'll be able to share these tools with other labs and quickly mix-and-match other molecules for testing. The foundation has been very understanding about our approach. They said, 'Go for it.'"
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu