Purdue professor receives $200,000 Pew grant for innovative biotechnology research

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – As part of a new grant program, the Pew Charitable Trusts recently awarded Barbara Golden, a Purdue University professor of biochemistry, a two-year grant to support her lab’s development of a programmable RNA enzyme to build new customized proteins.

The independent nonprofit organization has an extensive history of encouraging the development of cutting-edge discoveries - particularly among scientists with differing backgrounds and perspectives.

The new grant offered through the 2017 Pew Innovation Fund recognizes that type of collaboration. It supports research partnerships between alumni of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Each team selected receives $200,000 in funding.

Golden is partnering with Andrej Luptak, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine. Their research project on RNA will combine Golden’s expertise in structural biology and catalysis with Luptak’s background in chemistry and bioengineering.

Golden said the support provided by Pew Charitable Trusts is significant in helping scientists who are focusing on highly innovative areas of research. She said this grant offers scientists the opportunity to initiate research in areas that are not easily funded through traditional mechanisms, yet could be significant in laying the fundamental groundwork for technologies that could become broadly used.

“With this being the first time they’ve offered this grant, it’s exciting to be among the first recipients,” Golden said.

Golden also noted that the research conducted in her lab has primarily focused on the inner workings of RNA enzymes — or ribozymes. These are RNA molecules that can perform chemical reactions in test tubes or even in cells.

Golden’s latest lab project, which focuses on developing a ribozyme as a tool that could be used to build new customized proteins, is new territory. This could allow researchers to artificially incorporate artificial markers and modifications into proteins for diverse biotechnological purposes (e.g., protein tracking and drug enhancement) and enhance the study of fundamental biological processes. 

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