College of Arts and Sciences

OU professor awarded $550,178 grant by National Science Foundation

Research project will explore stem cell biology, potential uses

icon of a calendarAugust 19, 2020

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OU professor awarded $550,178 grant by National Science Foundation
Luis Villa-Diaz
Professor Luis Villa-Diaz

Oakland University Professor Luis Villa-Diaz has been awarded a $550,178 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research on stem cell biology and the potential use of stem cells in regenerative medicine.

“Stem cells are cells with the unique ability to divide into identical daughter cells or to differentiate into specialized cell types,” said Villa-Diaz, an assistant professor in the biological sciences and bioengineering departments at Oakland University. “A better understanding of stem cell biology will advance knowledge of how organs and tissues are formed and maintained during the life of an organism, as stem cells are responsible for those functions.”

Villa-Diaz will serve as the principal investigator on the project, which will examine the biological mechanisms that stem cells use to perform two of their main characteristics, including the capacity to divide and create an identical daughter cell — a process known as ‘self-renewal’ — and the potential for stem cells to change their identity and become a specialized, differentiated cell.

“My lab has been investigating for years these properties and new molecular pathways that are involved on both biological processes,” he said. “In this project, we will determine the potential function of two proteins — the Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) and Integrin-Linked Kinase (ILK) — in the nuclei of stem cells regulating the degradation of proteins involved in the regulation of genes that induce stem cell differentiation.

“These roles might be unique for stem cells, as in somatic cells these proteins play other roles,” Villa-Diaz added. “Confirming these new activities of these proteins in the nuclei of stem cells will impact our knowledge of stem cell biology and will help us to better use these cells for therapeutic use in regenerative medicine.”

In addition, this project will provide training opportunities for two new graduate students and multiple undergraduates, who will be directly involved in the research activities of this project. Dozens of graduate students will also be trained in methods to effectively communicate scientific knowledge to the public as an outreach component of the NSF grant.

“This NSF award means a lot to me because it is a vote of trust on my research program,” Villa-Diaz said.

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