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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 12, 2005

Engelhardt Receives Extended NIH Funding For Lung Stem Cell Study

Efforts to understand the basic biology of lung development and lung stem cells will move forward at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health. Insights gained from the research will have a bearing on lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis (CF), asthma and chronic bronchitis, and knowledge of lung stem cells may also be relevant and applicable to cancer research.

John Engelhardt, Ph.D., the Roy J. Carver Chair in Molecular Medicine and UI professor and interim head of anatomy and cell biology, has received a 10-year, $3.54 million MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.

A MERIT award provides long-term funding to researchers who have demonstrated outstanding productivity in their previous research efforts. The award recognizes a research record of excellence and consistency, and its sustained funding allows recipients to pursue research aimed at answering important and complex scientific questions.

Engelhardt and his colleagues will use the MERIT award to continue their ongoing investigation on the formation of submucosal glands -- regions in the lung that are important in fighting lung infections and helping to regenerate the lung following injury. These regions also form "protected homes" (called niches) where lung stem cells reside and proliferate.

The UI scientists plan to investigate the molecular events that control how a stem cell niche is formed in the lung. In particular, the team will focus on a specific transcription factor that controls stem cell functions. Some of these same functions are also important in the formation of other gland-like structures such as mammary glands, hair follicles and salivary glands.

"I suspect as we dissect the regulation of this very important transcription factor in lung biology, similar rules will apply to different organs and how their stem cell niches are established," Engelhardt said. "Understanding how a stem cell niche forms and expands is also very relevant to cancer."

Understanding the biological pathways that build the lung stem cell niche may also suggest ways to manipulate the stem cells and help treat lung diseases and injury. Furthermore, a greater knowledge of stem cell biology in the lung will greatly benefit the development genetic-based therapies for diseases like CF.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, (319) 335-9917

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: A photos of Dr. Engelhardt is available from Jennifer Brown (