Grace Sun, professor of biochemistry, was awarded the 2012 University of Missouri System President’s Award for Sustained Excellence.
“Dr. Sun is a major figure in neuroscience nationally and internationally,” said Gerald Hazelbauer, professor and chair of Biochemistry. “She is a moving force in establishing neuroscience on the MU campus.”
The award recognizes faculty for distinguished career-long, sustained excellence in scholarship, research or creativity, for a period of fifteen or more years.
Sun has been a faculty member in the UM system since 1974 and in the Department of Biochemistry since 1977. She has maintained NIH funding throughout her career and is the director of a successful NIH program project grant on Cell Models for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Her research investigates malfunctions of central nervous system signaling pathways associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.
The central nervous system is comprised of complex cellular networks within neurons and glial cells. Intricate biochemical pathways are known to mediate communications among these cells, Sun said. Neurons and glial cells are active in their response to numerous extracellular signals, including neurotransmitters and growth factors, which are transmitted through activation of cell specific receptors and signaling pathways.
Abnormal functioning of these signaling pathways can trigger a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism and stroke, Sun continued.
“An important goal for my laboratory is to investigate the signaling pathways mediated by different types of receptors, especially the metabotropic G-protein-coupled receptors and the ionotropic receptors, associated with generation of second messengers and mobilization of intracellular calcium,” Sun explained. “Current studies in my laboratory are focused on relating these pathways to activation of phospholipases A2 (PLA2), enzymes important in mediating the release of arachidonic acid and biosynthesis of prostaglandins. Increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress have been regarded important pathological landmarks of many neurodegenerative diseases.”
As a key member of the MU Botanical Center for Interactive Studies (CBIS), Sun’s research has led her to use cell and animal models to investigate possible anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects of a variety of botanical compounds. Research in her laboratory is also exploring whether nutritional supplements of these compounds may elicit neuroprotective effects.
“Our studies employ basic biochemical as well as modern molecular techniques to examine gene and protein expressions,” she continued. “We believe that our effort to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying signal transduction pathways will contribute to new therapeutic strategies for combating neuronal damage due to stroke, alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease.”
This is the second year of the two-year-old UM President’s Awards for Excellence that a faculty member in MU Biochemistry has been an award winner. In 2011, Associate Professor Jay Thelen received the inaugural Early Career President’s Award for Excellence.