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Federal grant to support cell research at UNM

Vojo Deretic has spent years studying the cell’s ability to clean its own house, and now he has a five-year, $11 million federal grant to help him expand his work.

Deretic, chairman of the University of New Mexico Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, will lead a new center that focuses on a cellular process called autophagy – the Greek word for “self-eating” – that allows cells to rid themselves of unwanted trash, including disease-causing pathogens.

The grant will allow UNM to expand the work into inflammation and metabolism, which play a role in a broad range of diseases, including diabetes, Crohn’s disease, HIV and autoimmune disease, Deretic said.

“It allows us to go relatively far afield,” he said. “Basically, you don’t have a disease that doesn’t have an inflammatory component.”

The center is called the Center for Autophagy, Inflammation and Metabolism in Disease, or the AIM Center. It will be funded by the National Institutes of Health as a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence.

“The real core of this grant is the fundamental discoveries that we have made here in New Mexico on autophagy,” he said. “It makes my day. Our research is not forgotten.”

The grant will allow UNM to buy the latest technology and hire laboratory staff which will allow faculty to compete with top universities for funding, he said.

“It’s a shot in the arm for us here to enable us to compete with the Harvards and the Stanfords at the national level.”