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Enzyme Research Leads to First NIH Grant

Published on 01 March 2015

Jasna Marjanovic, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, hopes she can find new potential drug targets in platelets. She has been awarded a three-year, $339,750 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant—the first in the College’s history—to study an enzyme in blood platelets that could be important in the clotting process.

Marjanovic’s research focuses on an enzyme, inositol polyphosphate 4-phosphatase type 1, which is found in all platelets. Previous research has shown that the enzyme is involved in regulating a messenger, phosphatidylinositol (3,4)bisphosphate, which accumulates in platelets during clotting. Marjanovic is trying to figure out how the messenger and the enzyme affect clot formation and clot stability.

“We know a lot about platelet biology but not all the details,” Marjanovic says. “This is one additional step we are studying.”

A deeper understanding of platelet biology, from research like Marjanovic’s, will help scientists create new medications to prevent clots. Some of the existing medications used prevent clots are aimed at blood platelets. Currently, patients take a low dose aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), or similar antidepressant agents to prevent a heart attack or stroke. But heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the world.

Two STLCOP students, Brad Rumancik and Luke Weber, are conducting lab research with Marjanovic. They work in a lab on campus and at the division of hematology at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Rumancik and Weber are currently genotyping and isolating DNA and beginning to study platelet functions.

“Just by knowing some basic biology, you can come up with a hypothesis of why something should work,” says Weber, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in basic science research. “To actually test it and see whether or not you’re right or wrong, that’s really cool.”

The work in the lab will help students in the classroom and make them better pharmacists, too.

“The biggest benefit is that students will learn how to think on multiple levels, while designing a research project and addressing significant problems,” Marjanovic says. “The point is to learn how to think.”  

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