Thanks to a generous gift by alumnus Mark Howell ’57, Ph.D., Valparaiso University has awarded two $5,000 STEM Faculty Research Fellowships to support scientific inquiry by pre-tenure faculty in STEM disciplines. One fellowship has been awarded to Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly ’07, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and her research collaborator Jeffrey Pruet, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, and the second fellowship has been awarded to Masaru Nakamoto, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of biology.
Orozco-Nunnelly and Pruet are joining lab forces to identify new compounds that may serve as treatments for or protection from various microbial infections and cancers in their project: “Identifying and Developing Novel Compounds to Combat Infection and Cancer: An Interdisciplinary Research Project Between the Departments of Biology and Chemistry.” During this research, they will explore the antimicrobial and anticancer properties of several medicinal plants and isolate the specific compounds responsible for these activities before deriving new molecules from the most potent plant components.
“This work is especially relevant due to the recent rise in so-called ‘superbugs’ and due to the stark decrease in antimicrobial and anticancer drug development in recent years,” said Orozco-Nunnelly. “We are very grateful to have received these STEM fellowship research funds, which will allow us to continue our work and publish on some very promising drug candidates we’ve identified with the undergraduate researchers in our labs.”
Nakamoto’s work is titled “Protecting Neurons from Cell Death for Lifelong Health” and focuses on uncovering how the body produces and maintains the appropriate number of neurons in the brain. Neuron health can be disrupted by a variety of factors such as strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and various traumas. By uncovering how neurons survive, Nakamoto’s study aims to remove a significant barrier in the treatment from these conditions.
“This fellowship will help me continue our research project that investigates the molecular mechanism for the production and maintenance of proper numbers of nerve cells in the brain,” Nakamoto said.
Valparaiso University values the contributions of our faculty to their fields of research and scholarship, and is proud to support those efforts through fellowship opportunities. Thanks in part to Valpo’s generous donors, the University can remain at the forefront of new ideas and discoveries.