August 3, 2009

Johns Hopkins hits 100 mark in Recovery Act grants

The Johns Hopkins University has to date been awarded 100 National Institutes of Health research grants through the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009, also known as the federal stimulus package.

These grants, totaling more than $21 million, will finance investigations ranging from computer-assisted orthopedic surgery to the role that certain proteins play in the development of muscular dystrophy to effective treatments of patients with sickle cell disease and beyond.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation received $12.4 billion as part of the stimulus act to award research grants between now and September 2010. Johns Hopkins scientists are expected to submit nearly 1,500 proposals for stimulus-funded projects, according to Scott Zeger, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“Johns Hopkins scientists are distinguished by their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit as evidenced by their response to this ARRA opportunity,” Zeger said. “This is a chance to make discoveries that change our understanding of the world in which we live, as well as to stimulate the economies of Baltimore and Maryland.”

Se-Jin Lee, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the School of Medicine, is among the faculty who received grant money. In an effort to develop new strategies to prevent muscle loss caused by muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting diseases, Lee will use the funds to continue studying a protein called myostatin, which controls muscle growth. During periods of muscle growth, myostatin is kept inactive by binding to special “inhibitor” proteins. Lee’s ARRA funding will allow him to investigate the relationship between myostatin and special enzymes related to these inhibitor proteins in mice with muscular dystrophy.

Lisa Feigenson, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, received recovery funds to investigate how babies and young children who haven’t yet learned how to count understand numbers. Previous research indicates that people have an “approximate number sense”—an ability, without counting, to estimate the number of objects, sounds or events in a scene. Feigenson and her team hope that understanding this system will eventually help people with dyscalculia, a learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics and number-based tasks.

Sabra Klein, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, is using a mouse model to examine how men and women differ in their response to the influenza virus. Klein and her team believe that this research will establish sex-specific mechanisms that may be important both for understanding the varying effectiveness of influenza vaccine and for pandemic preparedness.

Earlier this year, Johns Hopkins held a job fair seeking candidates for the specialized science and administrative jobs that were expected to open up thanks to extra research funding provided by the stimulus act. As a result of the job fair, Johns Hopkins has begun to hire people for these positions.

“Johns Hopkins is the largest private employer in Baltimore and, with its expenditures in research, teaching, patient care, construction and other areas, has helped to insulate the region against the worst of the recession,” Zeger said. “We are working very hard to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the stimulus to advance health and to help promote economic recovery.”

Johns Hopkins has been the leading U.S. academic institution in total research and development spending for 29 years in a row.