Health Care, Human Resources, and Technology

VARI researcher earns $225K grant

May 31, 2019
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Juan Du
Juan Du. Courtesy Van Andel Research Institute

A local neuroscientist has received one of six $225,000 grants for research toward developing new treatments for various health conditions, including fever and pain.

Van Andel Research Institute’s Juan Du was awarded the three-year Scholar Award by the McKnight Foundation.

She will use the funds in research to uncover the innerworkings of the body’s intricate and poorly understood temperature regulation system.

The McKnight Scholar Award program encourages neuroscientists in the early stages of their careers to focus on disorders of learning and memory.

“It is an absolute honor to be selected for this award, which has facilitated so many groundbreaking discoveries throughout the years,” Du said. “The McKnight Foundation’s support will allow us to take our research to the next level and answer long-standing questions that could have a direct impact on human health.”

The human body, especially the brain, is extremely vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, whether from a fever or touching hot or cold surfaces. It is protected by a host of sensory safeguards that, despite their importance, remain largely mysterious, VARI said.

Du and her team aim to determine how the body responds to temperature-based stimuli and will use their findings to inform development of potential treatments for a myriad issues, such as fever, pain and neuro-degeneration.

Du is an “increasingly recognized authority” in structural biology, which studies life’s smallest molecular components and has major implications for the development of new, improved medications, VARI said.

Du is an expert in a technique that allows scientists to visualize molecular structures down to the atomic level — about 1/10,000th the width of a human hair.

She joined VARI as an assistant professor in 2017 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Oregon Health & Science University’s Vollum Institute.

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