School of Medicine professor awarded $10.2 million grant from National Institutes of Health

Grant finds research into smooth muscle plasticity

RENO, Nev. — Kenton Sanders, Ph.D., professor and chair of the University of Nevada School of Medicine's Department of Physiology and Cell Biology and Christine Cremo, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biochemistry, recently received a $10.2 million, five–year grant from the National Institutes of Health through the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) to continue research into smooth muscle plasticity.

The award is one of 11, totaling $117 million, recently granted nationwide by the NIH to enhance research infrastructure, mentoring and training opportunities for biomedical researchers with the goal of advancing science to improve health.

"The Smooth Muscle Plasticity Center of Biomedical Research Excellence at the School of Medicine has expanded the research infrastructure and helped to develop the careers of several highly promising young investigators," said Sanders, who leads smooth muscle plasticity research at the School of Medicine.

Smooth muscles line all of the hollow organs in the body and regulate blood pressure, help to propel food and wastes in gastrointestinal and urogenital organs, deliver babies and are involved with many other basic processes of life. Smooth muscles are a unique class of muscles and are different from the skeletal muscles that support body posture and movement and cardiac muscles that pump blood around the body. They can change their cellular and molecular characteristics (remodel) or grow (hypertrophy) in response to a variety of stimuli that occur in a large number of diseases. Pathophysiological conditions result from the changes in smooth muscle tissues, but the genetic triggers and physiological consequences of remodeling and hypertrophy are not well understood. Several disease models involving smooth muscles will be used to learn how changes in these cells contribute to pathophysiology.

Sanders' COBRE research consists of five projects that are investigating various aspects of smooth muscle plasticity: correlation between structural and motor defects in diabetic gastroparesis; Phopholamban and CaM Kinase II in smooth muscle plasticity; an in-vitro model system for determining regulatory mechanisms for smooth muscle mechanics; smooth muscle hypertrophy regulated by microRNAs and their target genes; and stretch-dependent potassium channel regulation in overactive bladder.

COBRE awards support multidisciplinary biomedical research centers that concentrate on a central theme of research in order to strengthen biomedical faculty research capability and enhance research infrastructure. COBREs are a component of the Institutional Development Award program, which is designed to improve the competitiveness of investigators in states that historically have not received significant levels of competitive NIH research funding.

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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.