North Central College - Naperville, IL

Major Grant Furthers Research on Aging

"People in the sciences are realizing that some of the very best doctoral students and medical school applicants are coming from smaller schools where they obtain more hands-on research experience," says Jonathan Visick, associate professor of biology.

North Central College's biology department was rewarded for its growing program in undergraduate research when Visick learned that he was the recipient of a $123,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to support research into protein repair in bacteria and its relationship to aging. In May, Visick was awarded the College's annual Dissinger Prize for Faculty Scholarship for "bringing serious research into the undergraduate limelight," said R. Devadoss Pandian, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty.

The three-year NIA grant is called an Academic Research Enhancement Award and is part of a program designed to fund research at smaller institutions without doctoral programs.

"These grants support schools with significant undergraduate programs in research," Visick says. "One of the reasons for our selection was the notable numbers of students conducting summer research and the achievements of our alumni. Success breeds success."

The grant application required nearly a year to prepare and another nine months for review. The original award of $150,000 was reduced due to federal funding cuts but is still significant for North Central's research program, Visick says. The funds will cover the cost of lab materials, two full-time student workers during the summer and part-time student work during the academic year. In addition, all biology students will benefit from the purchase of new equipment, such as a new micro plate reader that handles 96 research samples at once.

Visick's research project, titled "Repair of Isoaspartyl Damage to Protein: in vivo Roles in E. coli," looks at the PCM enzyme and its effect on repairing proteins. Such research has implications for understanding the aging process of cells.

"Each of the students has a small piece of the bigger puzzle that we're working on and we'll eventually publish our results and present our findings at conferences," Visick adds.

North Central NOW Fall 2008