2 UC Berkeley professors given $1.5M each for genetic, cell research

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Hernan Garcia/Courtesy

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Two UC Berkeley assistant professors were each awarded with $1.5 million in grants for their innovative contributions to cell research Thursday.

Molecular and cell biology assistant professors Hernan Garcia and Jacob Corn each received a New Innovator Award. From these awards, each professor will receive over $1 million from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, to use for their proposed “high-risk ideas with high-impact potential” research projects, according to NIH’s website. The NIH awards dozens of grants every year for various accomplishments in scientific research.

One of the goals of Corn’s lab, the Corn Lab, focuses on is using gene therapy — genes that can be used to treat or prevent human genetic diseases, Corn’s website says. The intent behind his research, according to Corn’s website, is to get a better understanding of organisms from a biological standpoint and improve the wellbeing of humanity through technology.

“(Corn’s) research aims to better understand and treat disease through next-generation genome editing technologies,” the NIH said in a profile of Corn on its website.

Corn could not be reached for comment as of press time. 

Garcia, who also teaches physics on campus and whose research focuses on molecular and cell biology, called his win a “great honor,” adding that the process of earning the New Innovator grant can be extremely competitive. Prospective recipients, Garcia said, are required to write a proposal in order to appeal to multiple panels of scientists, who then judge these proposals.

Currently, Garcia has been using fruit flies as his main subject to study the development of cells. Garcia said his aim is to get a better understanding of how DNA “encodes” cells so that they can develop into multicellular organism.

As a long-term goal, Garcia said he wants to figure out “the rules that dictate (cell) development,” as well as be able to find a way to know what an organism is just by looking at its DNA sequence.

“In order to make these predictions, the first thing to do is measure how, when and where these genes (are expressed),” Garcia said. “The technology that we’re proposing to develop in this grant will allow us to make those measurements.”

This kind of research could open new doors in terms of bioengineering, Garcia said, as well as in attempting to treat diseases and developmental defects. With this new grant, Garcia said he won’t have to worry about funding for his research for the next five years and that he will have “the freedom” to fulfill his scientific endeavors.

Contact Mark Henry Salupen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @salupen_markdc.