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K-State Today

July 21, 2011

Time well spent: K-State professor's award allows more time for research, less time on paperwork

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

Twenty years of successful research may be allowed to continue in an expedited fashion for 10 more years, thanks to a Kansas State University professor's award from the National Institutes of Health.

Michael Kanost, university distinguished professor and head of the department of biochemistry at K-State, is receiving the federal agency's Method to Extend Research in Time Award, commonly referred to as a MERIT Award, for his research on proteases in hemolymph -- or insect blood.

The award comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. It seeks to provide long-term stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner.

Investigators cannot apply for this award, instead they are chosen by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Council from the pool of current National Institutes of Health grant-holders who are reapplying for their Research Project Grants, or R01 grants. The institute supports research that increases understanding of life processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

After the initial five-year MERIT Award, the investigator may request three to five years of further support, making it possible for Kanost to receive 10 total years of MERIT Award assistance.

This long-term support allows investigators to focus more on their creativity in research and developing new ideas and techniques and less time on administrative paperwork, which Kanost said is the biggest benefit to the award.

"Several years from now I won't have to write a new grant proposal, which takes months of intense work," he said. "I can request the extended time and focus on the research."

Nominations for the MERIT Award are very selective, as investigators must have received support for 10 years and must have an outstanding track record of productivity.

After 22 years of research in the area of hemolymph, Kanost's research was a perfect fit for the award. He focuses on the proteins in blood that function in the immune system of insects.

"We study two kinds of proteins in this project: proteases and protease inhibitors," he said. "The proteases function to turn on immune responses, and this is a rapid way to activate molecules to help the insect defend against infections. The inhibitors regulate, and are an 'off switch' for the function of the proteases."

Similar proteins occur in human blood to regulate blood clotting, which is necessary to regulate part of the immune system. This evolutionary relationship is one focus of his research.

"Our goal is to understand the biochemical pathways that regulate immune responses in insects," he said. "We want to understand how these proteins work at the molecular level, the details of the structure of proteins and how they affect interactions with other molecules."

The MERIT Award will allow Kanost's research group to analyze many proteins at the same time in systems biology experiments and to spend more time looking at the big picture of how these molecules are connected in networks to regulate functions in insects and in humans.