Creighton University Researcher Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Creighton University biochemistry researcher and assistant professor Lynne Dieckman, Ph.D., has been awarded a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The five-year, $680,500 NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award will be utilized to gain a better understanding of how improper DNA replication and compaction can cause changes in gene expression in offspring, which can play a role in the onset of diseases such as cancer, cell death or developmental issues. In addition, a major goal of the project is to create a comprehensive learning environment for aspiring high school-aged and undergraduate scientists who will have significant roles in the research.

The program offers the foundation’s most prestigious awards to support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Dieckman, an assistant professor with the department of Chemistry Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the first Creighton faculty member to receive the highly competitive NSF CAREER award.

“Words cannot fully capture how proud we are of Dr. Dieckman’s tremendous achievement. The CAREER award recognizes her future promise in science, as well as all her accomplishments,” David Dobberpuhl, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Chemistry said. “She often spends many long hours in the laboratory and mentors several research students each semester. She is a model scholar and teacher who is deserving of this recognition.”

Dieckman and her team of student researchers will use program funding to examine protein interactions in DNA replication and the subsequent packaging of DNA into the nucleus of cells.

“Maintaining proper gene expression relies on several important proteins that function together to compact DNA into active or inactive genes,” said Dieckman. “Just like people, we can learn a lot about how proteins work if we know what they look like physically and what kind of interactions they make throughout the day. My research aims to understand the function and three-dimensional structure of proteins involved in DNA replication and compaction and how they work together to maintain inactive regions of the genome.”

The two main proteins Dieckman’s research focuses on are called proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and chromatin assembly factor 1 (CAF-1). If these two proteins do not interact with each other in the cell, then certain genes get turned “on” when they should be “off.” This can result in genomic instability that can lead to certain diseases.

“My team of student researchers will dissect these proteins to determine how PCNA and CAF-1 interact. This will help us understand how DNA is compacted to maintain gene expression and genomic stability. The completion of these studies will lead to a greater understanding of the link between DNA replication and nucleosome assembly and how disruptions in this regulation lead to aberrant gene expression,” Dieckman said.

Another major goal of Dieckman’s research is to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. Creighton students will be heavily involved in performing all experimentation throughout the calendar year, as the NSF grant will cover stipends for three undergraduate students each summer.

In addition, six students from local high schools will participate in research projects every summer in a collaboration with the Haddix STEM Corridor program. Students in the program will attend weekly scientific development workshops on campus and present research results to other scientists and the public.

“These activities are intended to inspire young students’ interest in science and prepare them for successful future careers in STEM,” Dieckman said.

NSF’s goal is to propel the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. The foundation supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments, and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. In 2021, NSF funds will reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities, and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards.

(Photo by WOWT 6 News)

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