FMU awarded $1.3 million for research grant

Lindsay Buchanan, Senior Writer

A recent award of $1.296 million from the National Center for Research Resources will assist Francis Marion faculty with ongoing biomedical research while providing students with an enriched hands-on learning experience.

According to Peter King, chair of the FMU Biology Department and the grant’s co-director, the grant will improve both the quality and depth of research that FMU biology professors are currently conducting, and it will give students the opportunity to get first hand experience in the Biology Department.

“This grant will provide resources for students to do more research with doctors of biology,” King said. “One of the aims is to enhance the chances of students to go on to graduate programs in science.”

The award, which will fund the Biomedical Research Enhancement program at FMU for the next five years, will have a direct impact on three professors in particular who are working on research in the areas of cancer and epilepsy on a cellular level.

Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Erin Eaton will work specifically with cancer research. Assistant Professors of Biology Dr. Latha Malaiyandi and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kirk Dineley will collaborate on research that will help explain epilepsy.

Malaiyandi said that the award money will make it possible to include students in research at a much earlier stage in their academic careers than would otherwise be possible.

Statistics show that students who become involved early on with hands-on learning are more likely to go on to pursue graduate schools and careers in their chosen majors.

“Spending time in a classroom is great, and one of the reasons why I came to FMU, but a lot of learning is done in the lab,” Malaiyandi said. “This money will help enrich their learning with hands-on experience and may expose them to more and encourage them to pursue careers in biology and graduate schools.”

For professors like Malaiyandi, being able to get out of the classroom and conduct research allows them to network with colleagues that they may not have had contact with since their own days in graduate school. That research and collaboration can potentially lead to significant scientific breakthroughs.

“For me specifically, this grant will allow me to study how brain cells die,” Malaiyandi said. “I will be able to communicate and network with more neuroscientists. This will give me a perfect balance with being able to work in a classroom but also in research mode, like in grad school. I’ll also be getting back in touch with my colleagues and collaborating with them.”

The award was made available to the school through two research funding programs. The Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program is administered through the National Center for Research Resources, whose parent organization is the National Institutes for Health. The second program is the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), whose parent organization is the National Science Foundation.

Programs like these make it possible to provide research funding to colleges and universities that are less likely to receive the federal funding that many larger schools receive.

Francis Marion is not the only area university that will benefit from this award. FMU professors will work closely with faculty from the University of South Carolina while conducting the research made possible by this grant.

USC principal investigator Lucia Pirisi-Creek will co-direct the grant with King. Eaton will work closely with David Reisman, USC professor of biological sciences, on cancer research. Malaiyandi and Dineley will collaborate on epilepsy research with David Mott, USC School of Medicine assistant professor of pharmacology, physiology and neuroscience.

Francis Marion President Fred Carter said the award is a testimony to the talents of FMU faculty and will allow the school to provide a better learning experience for its students.

“This is yet another accolade for one of the finest faculties in the state,” Carter said. “Our biologists will be conducting essential biomedical research and further enhancing the education of our students in the process, an ideal integration of research and teaching.”