Dr. Grace Zhai Named to NIH Study Section

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R. Grace Zhai, Ph.D., senior associate dean for basic science research at the Miller School of Medicine and professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, has been appointed to the Synapses, Cytoskeleton and Trafficking Study Section at the Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health.

Study sections review biomedical research grant applications submitted to the NIH, make recommendations to the appropriate national advisory council or board, and survey the status of research in their fields. Members are selected on the basis of their achievement in their scientific discipline.

From left, Joun Park, Grace Zhai, Ph.D., Zoraida Diaz-Perez, Xianzun Tao, Ph.D., and Yi Zhu, M.D.

“This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Zhai and will have an important impact on the future of biomedical research,” said Carl I. Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., executive dean for research. “She brings an exceptional range of research experience to her service on the study section, and I know she will gain insights to help advance research excellence and innovation at the Miller School.”

Dr. Zhai’s research is focused on understanding the genetic and molecular mechanisms of neural degeneration and protection in the context of both common and rare neurological disorders. Her group discovered and characterized one of the most robust neuroprotective factors that has broad therapeutic potential against several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. At the same time, her group has established numerous genetic models for rare diseases and carried out mechanistic analysis of neurological phenotypes that have led to successful patient therapies.

“Being selected as a member of this study section means the affirmation of my scientific achievement in this related field and the recognition of my impact in this field,” Dr. Zhai said. “Serving on this study section is an important responsibility that I take very seriously.”

The Synapses, Cytoskeleton and Trafficking Study Section reviews applications on the cell biology of neurons, synapses and gap junctions. Specific areas include synaptic plasticity, protein and organelle trafficking, cell surface and extracellular matrix molecules in cell recognition and function, and cytoskeletal functions across the life span.

Emphasis is on fundamental mechanisms of neuronal function, including those relevant to disease processes such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases and fragile-X syndrome.