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UTSD Postdoc Earns NIH Diversity Research Award

Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 11:39am

April Ross, PhD

Yahuan Lou, PhD

April Ross, PhD

Yahuan Lou, PhD

A postdoctoral fellow and immunologist at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston has won a highly coveted federal grant to support her research on potential treatments for a rare-but-devastating autoimmune disease.

April Ross, PhD, received a $170,000, two-year research grant in December from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health. With the grant, Ross can continue her fellowship under Yahuan Lou, PhD, professor in UTSD’s Department of Diagnostic and Biomedical Sciences, a prominent researcher in kidney-related autoimmune diseases.

The grant is among the institute’s research supplement awards given to the most promising young minority scientists, in an effort to foster diversity in biomedical research.

Lou said the grant process is highly competitive. Ross’s grant application was reviewed by an NIH study section, and on a scale of 1-to-10 was given a 2 – an excellent score, he added.

To be eligible, applicants must already be working on one of NIH’s Research Project Grants. In this case, it is Lou’s NIH-funded $1.3 million grant on anti-GBM glomerulonephritis, also known as Goodpasture syndrome. It was one of the earliest recognized autoimmune diseases and causes serious, sometimes fatal, lung and kidney damage.

In Goodpasture’s, the immune system attacks a certain protein in the lung and kidneys and can eventually lead to renal failure. The syndrome can be treated with immunosuppressants, but there is no cure. Lou and Ross are working to understand the cellular mechanisms of the disease and to develop new therapies.

The grants are designed to help launch young scientists’ careers as independent investigators, and in the second phase of the project, Ross will open a separate line of inquiry on a different cell type related to Goodpasture’s.

Ross, whose doctoral work focused on pulmonary immunology, has long been drawn to translational research and hopes to devote her career to studying and developing therapies for autoimmune diseases.

She joined UTSD in spring 2012 after earning an undergraduate degree in zoology from Iowa State University and a doctorate in immunology from the University of California-Davis.