UNR Med Department of Pharmacology's Heather Burkin, Ph.D. receives $1.6 million NIH award for preterm birth research

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Dr. Heather Burkin poses for a group photo with her lab team.

The Burkin lab members pose for a group photo, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Back row: Craig Ulrich, Ph.D., research assistant professor; Anutr Sivakoses, undergraduate student; Adrian Pena, undergraduate student; Victoria Maged, UNR graduate. Center row: Christian Copley Salem, Ph.D.; Amy Savignac, undergraduate student. Front row: Heather Burkin, Ph.D., assistant professor; Emily Bernamonti, undergraduate student; Jiavanna Wong-Fortunato, undergraduate student; Janet Lambert, lab technician and manager; Grace Silva, undergraduate student. Photo courtesy of Scott Barnett.

Heather Burkin, Ph.D., assistant professor, Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology, Department of Pharmacology at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) has recently received a five-year, $1.6 million dollar award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the regulation of uterine contractions in relation to preterm birth.

"Preterm birth affects 1 in 10 pregnancies and is a leading cause of infant mortality and preterm infants that survive have high rates of health problems and lifelong disabilities," says Burkin.

Dr. Burkin's laboratory has recently shown that remodeling enzymes are elevated in uterine tissue from women undergoing preterm labor and that these enzymes enhance uterine contractions. "We're investigating how these enzymes affect the cell's contractile machinery and if inhibition of these enzymes can reduce uterine contractions and delay birth in preterm models," says Burkin. "Our long-term research goal is to develop new therapies to allow a greater proportion of infants to be carried to term."

Additional members of the research team include Iain L. O. Buxton Pharm.D., regents professor, foundation professor, Normand Leblanc, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology, Craig Ulrich, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Pharmacology, and Neda Etezadi-Amoli, M.D., chair, Obstetrics and Gynecology. The project will utilize services provided by the Nevada Genomics Center, the Nevada Center for Bioinformatics, and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D. Nevada Proteomics Center. Dr. Burkin's research program has previously been supported by the Mountain West Clinical Translational Research Infrastructure Network (CTRIN) and the Nevada IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NV-INBRE).

"We are honored to be your colleagues and so grateful for your significant contributions to science and to this institution," says Josh Baker, Ph.D., associate Professor; INBRE Principal Investigator/Director; Interim Chair, Department of Pharmacology. "The Department of Pharmacology was ranked 19th in the nation for NIH funding last year, at $10.6M, and growing, thanks to Dr. Heather Burkin and all of our extraordinary scientists."


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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.

Released: Tuesday September 15, 2020 @ 6:00 AM