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NIH Awards $440,000 to U of A Neurobiologist for Gene Research

NIH Awards $440,000 to U of A Neurobiologist for Gene Research

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $440,613 to a University of Arkansas neurobiologist to study how a gene develops specific nerve connections throughout the body, a key step in developing ways to stimulate regrowth of nerve connections after an injury or degenerative disease.

Timothy A. Evans, an assistant professor in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, said the three-year grant will support his research of the gene known as robo2 in the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Live fruit fly embryos are developing inside eggs on a plate. | Emma Schock, University of Arkansas

Fruit fly embryos are developing inside eggs on a plate dabbed with yeast in Timothy Evans’ lab. | Emma Schock, University of Arkansas

Drosophila serves as an important model for investigating the mechanisms of neural development, because genes like robo2 play similar roles in embryonic neural development in humans,” Evans said. “The more we learn about robo2 in the fruit fly, the better equipped we are to understand the roles of its human counterparts in the contexts of development, neurodegenerative disease and repair after injury.”

Robo2 is a nerve cell protein that controls the growth of nerve fibers during development of the fly. Evans will modify the robo2 gene and corresponding protein to study how different parts of the protein contribute to forming various nerve connections throughout the body.

Robo family genes continue functioning beyond embryonic development and may represent promising therapeutic targets to stimulate nerve growth and repair. If an injury occurs that severs a nerve – or if a nerve degenerates because of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – the nervous system tries to repair those cells.

“But the human body is not very good at reestablishing the connections to those nerves,” Evans said. “If we understand how these genes promote guidance decisions, which could take years, we will have insight into stimulating that activity in an injured or degenerated nervous system, to re-form those connections from embryonic development.”

About The Author

Chris Branam writes about research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. His beats include the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History.

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