Biologists Hoffman And Chiles Win Major N.I.H. Research Grant Awards

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Biology Department associate professors Charles Hoffman and Thomas Chiles recently obtained major research grant awards from the National Institutes of Health.

Hoffman was awarded a $1 million competitive renewal grant from NIH which will enable him to continue his research on factors influencing gene expression in yeast cells. The grant combines two awards, one a continuation of the original project funded by NIH in 1991, the other in support of a second proposal to expand the scope of the study.

Hoffman's work utilizes yeast as a model organism for investigating biological processes. His study centers on the cyclic AMP, or cAMP, signal pathway of fission yeast, and its role in the transmission of signals from the environment.

"The cells regulate transcription of our target gene depending upon the presence or absence of glucose," said Hoffman, who now draws the largest current yearly funding for a single-investigator NIH grant on campus. "It sends a signal when there is glucose, as one might expect, but when the glucose is absent a different signal is sent - it might be described as a 'starvation' signal.

"With this supplementary funding," he continued, "we want to see how these signals turn the transcription of our gene on or off. This is important since transcription is the first step in the process of gene expression."

Hoffman said his work might some day have potential relevance for medical research, such as the study of cancer. Noting that his expanded project grew out of a Boston College Research Incentive Grant, Hoffman said University support of faculty can have far-reaching effects.

"The grant from BC was very important," he said. "They put together a program that helped me develop my lab and this was instrumental in my being able to get external funding."

Chiles was awarded a four-year grant renewal for $850,000. The funding extends Chiles' work, which he had been conducting under a previous five-year NIH grant, on the behavior of "B" cells. As Chiles explains, "B" cells tend to be largely dormant until a foreign substance enters the body, which prompts them to become active and start dividing.

"We've been looking at how the cells interpret the situation and what specifically causes them to begin dividing," explained Chiles. "From a purely immunological standpoint, this can help us understand the workings of the body's immune system.

"Now, having observed normal 'B' cells," he continued, "we will turn our attention to malignant ones. Potentially, this work could be used in researching the development of lymphomas, for example."

"We take a lot of pride in what Charles and Tom have accomplished," said Assoc. Prof. William Petri, the department chairman. "They are two people who, rather than resting on their laurels after obtaining tenure, have taken their activity in the area of external funding to higher levels."

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