Bio professor receives million dollar grant

Courtesy of Allyson O'Donnell Duquesne biology professor Allyson O’Donnell (second from the left) poses for a picture with her high school and college research assistants. O’Donnell recently received a grant that will allow her to continue to her research into protein structure.

Courtesy of Allyson O’Donnell
Duquesne biology professor Allyson O’Donnell (second from the left) poses for a picture with her high school and college research assistants. O’Donnell recently received a grant that will allow her to continue to her research into protein structure.

By Kailey Love | The Duquesne Duke

A Duquesne biology professor has conducted research worth a million dollars, according to the National Science Foundation.

Allyson O’Donnell is the recipient of a $1 million, five year NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program Grant. The grant will help O’Donnell further her research on a particular cell behavior called protein trafficking, which she has been studying since 2006.

O’Donnell’s research is focused on how proteins function within a cell, specifically alpha arrestin proteins. In response to a change in environment, these alpha arrestin proteins are responsible for the reorganization of proteins within the cell that allows the cell to survive the environmental shift. Before she began her research, these proteins were completely uncharacterized, despite their importance. Without these proteins, the cell would die, according to O’Donnell.

In fact, problems with arrestins have been linked to hypertension, asthma, neurological disorders and depression.

“In understanding how a cell works, we can understand how things go wrong, in the case of disease,” O’Donnell said. “The better we understand cells, the better we can understand these diseases.”

As part of the NSF grant program, recipients are encouraged to get students involved in their research. With the help of the grant, O’Donnell plans to revise the undergraduate cell and molecular biology superlab course, so that students will be doing cutting edge research.

“Students would be figuring out the basics of cell and molecular biology, but still answering a question that no one else in the world knows the answer to.” O’Donnell says. “The grant is not only for researching science, but for broadening our student’s experience in science.”

In addition to refining this course, O’Donnell is paired with Taylor Allderdice High School, a public school located in Squirrel Hill, for a high school mentoring program she began as a research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. This program allows high school students in grades 10 through 12 grade to work in a lab and gain research experience.

With the help of the grant, O’Donnell will be able to expand this program further and open up the experience to four high school students, as well as extend a paid summer research position. In addition to this program, the grant also helps create an additional four paid summer research positions for Duquesne undergraduate students.

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