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NC State Physicist Awarded $1.8 Million for Research on Cell Division

NC State physicist Mary Williard Elting has received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate a tiny cellular machine that plays a key role in cell division and disease.

The grant was made as part of the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award program of the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The program aims to provide researchers with greater stability and flexibility in an effort to enhance scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.

Elting’s project focuses on the mitotic spindle, a cellular machine that segregates chromosomes into two new daughter cells when cells divide. Accurate spindle function is critical because mistakes lead to extra or missing chromosomes that are associated with cancer, birth defects and miscarriage. Elting’s group is working to better understand how the spindle functions by probing the molecular and mechanical organization of the spindle’s underpinning microtubule bundles, as well as controlling spindle microtubule bundles to alter their function.

In the long term, the approach may provide new explanations into how altering the cell’s “building code” can lead to disease.

“My team and I are excited about the opportunity this grant gives us to tackle new biophysical questions about how the mitotic spindle achieves its mechanical functions,” Elting said. “The five-year period and investigator-based funding mechanism of the MIRA will give us the flexibility to follow the most exciting directions that the research leads us.”

Elting will lead a team of investigators on the project including physics graduate student Marc Begley and several physics undergraduate students.

This post was originally published in College of Sciences News.