MERIT award will fund UNM professor’s research

Vojo Deretic

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico researcher Vojo Deretic, Ph.D., has been picked for a prestigious MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health to continue his study of the cellular process that may be key to curing infectious diseases and cancer.

The Method to Extend Research in Time award means Deretic, who has been with the UNM Health Sciences Center since 2001, will have his research funded for another eight to 10 years without having to submit in a competitive renewal process, UNM said in a news release.

“NIH, unbeknownst to me, nominated us for the MERIT award. It’s a pretty good recognition,” Deretic said in a statement.

Deretic is a professor, chair of the molecular genetics and microbiology department, and director of UNM’s Autophagy, Inflammation and Metabolism in Disease Center.

Fewer than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators get MERIT awards, said Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Larson.

“This honor is well-deserved,” Larson said in the release. “It’s appropriate recognition for a scientist who has so many significant and impactful scientific discoveries to his credit.”

His study of autophagy focuses on how cells “clean house” by removing or recycling damaged organelles and proteins. It also plays a role in fighting infections and diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, degenerative neurological conditions and aging, UNM said.

In 2012, Deretic was named chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Autophagy. And last year, he was awarded a five-year $11 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to establish the AIM Center, which studies autophagy and its connections.

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