Mount St. Mary’s University received renewal of a three-year $443,997 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award, also known as an AREA Grant to support the research of the laboratory of Associate Professor of Chemistry Patrick Lombardi, Ph.D. by providing students with increased summer research opportunities, travel to scientific conferences to present their work and learn from others, and access to experimental approaches with state-of-the-art laboratory equipment.
Science Department Chair and Professor of Biology Dana Pirone Ward, Ph.D., C’97, appreciates the hands-on experiential learning that this grant allows students to engage in outside of the classroom. “These types of experiences enhance students’ academic development, allowing them to gain practical skills, explore their interests and make valuable contributions to the field of DNA repair,” she said.
The Lombardi Lab’s research seeks to determine how the cell’s DNA repair machinery recognizes a specific molecular signal that is present at DNA damage sites. Understanding how DNA repair factors localize at damage sites will allow clinicians to diagnose and respond to diseases that arise from malfunctions in DNA damage repair processes more effectively.
During the initial three-year period of this grant, NIH funding supported full-time, paid summer research positions for 19 Mount students. Overall, a total of 31 students participated in grant-funded research as members of the Lombardi Lab and 66 students contributed to the grant through the research they completed in Lombardi’s 400-level biochemistry course. Along with supporting student positions at the Mount, NIH funding also allowed the research group to purchase instrument time at the Biomolecular NMR Center at Johns Hopkins University where they collaborated with the director of the facility, Ananya Majumdar, Ph.D. Additionally, NIH funds were used to purchase scientific equipment at the Mount that expanded the Lombardi Lab’s research capabilities and capacity, shared Lombardi, the grant’s principal investigator.
Ultimately, Mount undergraduate researchers, working in collaboration with scientists at Johns Hopkins University and Washington University in St. Louis, identified a novel binding interaction that targets DNA repair complexes to DNA damage sites. These findings were reported in a research article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry coauthored by 13 Mount undergraduate researchers as well as Lombardi and researchers at Johns Hopkins and Washington Universities. The Mount student coauthors were Rita Anoh, C’23, Julia Baer, C’21, Kate Burke, C’21, Lauren Gray, C’21, Abigail Hacker, C’22, Kayla Kebreau, C’21, Christine Ngandu, C’23, Hannah Orland, C’21, Emmanuella Osei-Asante, C’21, Dhane Schmelyun, C’21, Devin Shorb, C’22, Shaheer Syed, C’24, and Julianna Veilleux, C’24.
A Methods in Molecular Biology chapter describing the protocols used to produce the purified proteins utilized in the study was coauthored by Lombardi and three undergraduate researchers, Rita Anoh, C’23, Dhane Schmelyun, C’21, and Kate Burke, C’21. Additionally, NIH support allowed Mount undergraduate researchers to share their discoveries at conferences such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists and the annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association and American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
More work is necessary to understand how DNA repair complexes selectively home in on their target DNA damage signal amongst the myriad potential binding partners in the cell. Going forward the lab’s research will focus on elucidating the critical details of the binding interaction discovered during the original funding period, Lombardi shared.
“The grant’s outcomes and continued success demonstrate the Mount’s commitment to undergraduate research,” said Lombardi. Lombardi was aided in securing the grant by now retired Grants Manager Kathy Criasia as well as the Accounting and Financial Affairs Department.