Milwaukee, Wis., May 25, 2016 – For their distinct and innovative molecular research, two University of Wisconsin scientists have earned seed funding for their projects through a competitive Greater Milwaukee Foundation award. 

As recipients of the Foundation’s 2016 Shaw Scientist Award, Feyza Engin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Chemistry, and Srivatsan Raman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, both at UW-Madison, will each receive a $200,000 grant to advance their work. For more than 30 years, the Shaw Scientist Program has supported early career investigators pursuing promising ideas in biochemistry, biological sciences and cancer research.

“Research is a long-term investment in our quality of life, which is why the Shaw Scientist Program aligns so perfectly with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s mission,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “The Foundation’s donors have been supporting quality of life initiatives in our community for more than 100 years, and we are committed to carrying out the Shaw’s vision of investing in the future health of our region.”

Targeting type 1 diabetes

Engin_Portrait.jpgDr. Engin’s research addresses type 1 diabetes, which affects about 3 million people in the U.S., and is increasing in incidence at a rate of about 3 to 5 percent annually. The disease results when the body’s own immune cells destroy beta cells, which produce insulin.

Examining how dysfunction in the organelles – or functioning components – of beta cells leads to type 1 diabetes is the focus of Dr. Engin’s lab. By understanding the molecular mechanisms of this dysfunction, she aims to develop more specific and effective preventive and therapeutic strategies against type 1 diabetes.

“The Shaw Scientist Award has a great value for young investigators to pursue their research, as it provides substantial funding in a more flexible nature than many other funding systems,” Dr. Engin said.

Prior to receiving her Ph.D. from Baylor College of Medicine in 2007 and postdoctoral training at Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Engin earned both her B.Sc. and M.Sc. from Istanbul University, Turkey.

Studying shape-changing proteins 

Vatsan_Raman.jpgDr. Raman’s research seeks to unravel the molecular mystery behind “allostery,” a property that allows proteins to change shape by sensing and responding to signals inside a cell. Proteins are the workhorses of biology, and the function of each protein is encoded in the molecular details of its unique three-dimensional shape.

Allosteric proteins are akin to electrical switches that regulate nearly every major biological activity. In the longer term, a deeper understanding of allosteric proteins could lead to targeted molecular therapies to restore the normal function of mutated allosteric proteins that cause developmental disorders, metabolic disease and cancer.

“The Shaw Scientist Award funds give me the freedom to pursue a high-risk, high-reward project,” said Dr. Raman. “The preliminary results will strengthen my grant application for continued federal funding of this research.”

Dr. Raman earned his Ph.D. in 2009 from University of Washington, Seattle, followed by postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. He received his B.S. from Baroda University, India, and M.S. from Missouri University of Science and Technology.

About the Shaw Scientist Award

The awards program started in 1982 thanks to a $4.3 million bequest from Dorothy Shaw, widow of James Shaw, a prominent Milwaukee attorney. In addition to $2 million in special grants, the Shaws’ fund has awarded nearly $13.2 in grants to 71 scientists from UW-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since its creation. An advisory panel with scientists representing major U.S. research institutions recommends the winners.

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

For more than a century, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has helped individuals, families and organizations realize their philanthropic goals and make a difference in the community, during their lifetimes and for future generations. The Foundation consists of more than 1,200 individual charitable funds, each created by donors to serve the charitable causes of their choice. The Foundation also deploys both human and financial resources to address the most critical needs of the community and ensure the vitality of the region. Established in 1915, the Foundation was one of the first community foundations in the world and is now among the largest. 

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