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A $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help a UMD researcher answer a longstanding question in biology: How do cells go from being stationary to motile—that is, able to move around the body to perform various functions?
Animal and avian sciences Professor Lisa Taneyhill is examining how an essential protein facilitates movement for neural crest cells—an important cell type that gives rise to parts of our head, heart, gut, nervous system and even skin pigment.
The process of cells transitioning from stationary to migratory, known as the epithelial-to mesenchymal transition, or EMT for short, has many translational applications for both animal and human diseases, she said.
“Cancer cells, for example, can undergo the process of becoming migratory or metastasize, and such cancers are much more difficult to treat because they are spreading throughout the body,” Taneyhill said. “So one of the goals of my lab is to understand what’s happening in a normal migratory event in a neural crest cell to have more unique tools at our disposal to treat diseases where cells are moving.”
The grant to Taneyhill also supports research opportunities for high schoolers and college students, with an emphasis on training and lab experiences for women and other underrepresented groups in science.
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