Zhang receives $1.85 million NIH R35 award

With this R35 award, a UAB chemistry professor will further research into protein-protein interaction and test structural findings in cells.

RS37797 Jun Zhang 3 scrJun Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Chemistry, has received a five-year, $1.85 million National Institutes for Health Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award R35 to further his research on the SRSF1 serine and arginine rich splicing factor.

With this award, Zhang and his team aim to explain the mechanism that governs early-stage spliceosome assembly, and how protein-protein interactions and protein-RNA interactions are coordinated and regulated in this process.   

“With this NIH R35, we have funding and time to extend our research into protein-protein interaction and test our structural findings in cells — this award adds a new dimension to our research,” Zhang said. “Numerous human diseases are directly related to aberrant RNA splicing, and our research will shed light on the molecular mechanism of this assembly process and lay the basis for developing therapies for diseases related to aberrant RNA splicing.”

Examples of aberrant splicing include selecting wrong RNA fragments and introducing premature stop codons for protein expression. This dysregulation will result in malfunctioning proteins and therefore causes various diseases. Selection of RNA fragments takes place at the early stage of spliceosome assembly. As molecular interacting events in this stage are very transient, Zhang explained that knowledge about and development of new therapies is still limited.

The goal of an NIH MIRA award is to increase the efficiency of National Institute of General Medical Sciences funding by providing investigators with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.