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Chemist Receives NIH Outstanding Investigator Award

Chemist Receives NIH Outstanding Investigator Award

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Carlos Baiz, assistant professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, an Outstanding Investigator Award. The award comes with $1 million over five years to fund basic research that could, among other things, help scientists better understand how our brains encode memories and reveal the causes of some neurological and cardiovascular diseases.

Carlos Baiz is receiving an NIH Outstanding Investigator Award. Photo credit: Vivigan Abagiu.

The award is made through the Maximizing Investigators' Research Award for Early Stage Investigators (MIRA) program.

One of the projects Baiz plans to use the award for seeks to understand how ion channels—like windows in the walls of cells that allow ions to pass through—are opened or closed. Ion channels are essential for several functions in the body such as conduction of electrical signals in the nerves.

The ion channel Baiz and his collaborators are investigating is thought to play a role in encoding memories by reshaping the synaptic networks in the brain. More specifically, the researchers are investigating how a small protein, Calmodulin (CaM), is able to open or close this particular ion channel. This could provide new insights for human health, since mutations in CaM or the ion channels they regulate are responsible for neurological and cardiovascular diseases.

The ion channel project began as an interdisciplinary collaboration between Baiz's research group and that of neuroscience professor Richard Aldrich with a Catalyst Grant from UT Austin's College of Natural Sciences.

"The results from the work funded by the Catalyst grant were essential for formulating the ideas that went into this NIH proposal," Baiz said. "In essence, by allowing us to continue that collaboration, this NIH award is a success story for the Catalyst program."

The NIH Outstanding Investigator Award marks the second early career award for Baiz, who joined the UT Austin faculty in 2015. Earlier this year, he received the NSF CAREER award.

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Friday, 23 August 2019

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