Dr. Michael J. Pikaart of the Hope College chemistry faculty has received a federal grant for research that could ultimately have implications for the treatment of blood diseases.
Pikaart has received a $102,317 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) through the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The three-year award will support his on- going research into the way that blood cell development is affected by the interaction between DNA and a protein known as Gata-1.
"Gata-1 is required for bone marrow stem cells to mature into functional blood cells in circulation," said Pikaart, an assistant professor of chemistry at Hope. "In red blood cell development, for example, Gata-1 works to turn on expression of the globin genes to produce hemoglobin protein, the molecule which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body."
In studying the relationship between Gata-1 and DNA, Pikaart is hoping to gain insights not only into such normal functioning, but also into how the interaction might play a role in diseases such as anemia and leukemia-- information that medical researchers might then be able to use in their search for a cure.
Pikaart, a member of the Hope faculty since 1999, has been studying the functioning of the Gata-1 protein since 1992, when he took a research position with the National Institutes of Health.
He conducts his investigation at Hope in collaboration with undergraduate student researchers during both the school year and summer. The AREA award's support includes stipends that will enable two students to work with him full-time during each of the three summers included in the grant duration.
The AREA awards enable qualified scientists to receive support for small-scale research projects to support the nation's biomedical and behavioral research effort. The grants are intended to create a research opportunity for scientists and institutions outside of the large universities that typically participate in HHS programs. Besides benefiting researchers and their colleges, the grant program aims to benefit students as well through exposure to, and participation in, research that encourages students to pursue graduate studies in health sciences.
Pikaart teaches biochemistry and general chemistry at Hope, in addition to directing student research. He had previously been an instructor with the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, and a staff fellow with the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md.
He graduated from Calvin College in 1986 with a major in chemistry, and completed his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Michigan in 1992.