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Source: Urska Bukovnik, ubukov@k-state.edu

Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

GRADUATE STUDENT WINS TRAVEL AWARD FROM BIOPHYSICAL SOCIETY TO PRESENT PAPER

MANHATTAN -- The Biophysical Society is honoring research by a Kansas State University graduate student on synthetic channel-forming peptides to treat diseases like cystic fibrosis.

Urska Bukovnik, doctoral student in biochemistry from Slovenia, is receiving a travel award from the society to attend its 55th annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., in March 2011.

Recipients of the competitive award are selected based on scientific merit, with priority given to those who will present a paper at the conference. Bukovnik will present "Synthetic Peptide-based Channels: Candidates for Treatments of Channelopathies."

Bukovnik works in the lab of John Tomich, professor of biochemistry. One of the major research focuses of the lab is to design synthetic channel-forming peptides for use in treatments of a disease like cystic fibrosis, which is caused by the loss of functioning ion channels or channelopathies. Ion channels are pore-forming proteins that are vital to all living cells.

"None of the currently available genetic methods for treating channelopathies is fully successful; therefore, my approach employs a novelty based on the synthesis of synthetic channels that could replace defective ion channels," Bukovnik said.

The peptide sequences Bukovnik uses are distantly related to the natural, pore-forming transmembrane segment of a specific spinal cord glycine receptor. Her research focuses on altering the electrostatic properties of the pore by substituting pore-lining residues with a small, positively charged, non-encoded amino acid known as diaminopropionic acid.

"It's believed that such modification could improve ion selectivity," Bukovnik said.

Bukovnik plans to finish her degree work in the summer and would like to find a postdoctoral fellow position in biopharmaceutical or biomedical research.

The Biophysical Society, founded in 1956, is a professional, scientific society established to encourage the development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. The society's annual meeting is the world's largest meeting of biophysicists, with more than 6,000 attendees expected. More than 3,700 scientific abstracts have already been submitted for presentation at the meeting.