VAI scientist awarded $2.3M MIRA grant

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Dr. Stephanie Grainger is the second scientist at VAI to receive the MIRA grant in the last four years. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

Dr. Stephanie Grainger of Van Andel Institute (VAI) earned a competitive $2,375,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health in support of her research.

The five-year, Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) provides scientists “with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs,” according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The MIRA provides support for Grainger’s laboratory research into the Wnt molecular pathway, which is central to several vital processes aiding wound healing and healthy body/tissue development. When cellular communication is disrupted, it has the ability to provoke cancer, heart conditions, osteoporosis and other conditions.

“Much like the foreperson at a construction site, Wnt controls nearly everything the body does throughout development. For example, it communicates where the head should go versus the feet and, in adults, coordinates resources to heal wounds and replenish stem cells,” Grainger said. “I am honored to receive this award, which will help us answer longstanding questions that have profound implications for correcting errors in the Wnt pathway as a means to treat disease.”

Grainger and her team hope to bring a more in-depth understanding of Wnt, as there has been a lack of insight into specific molecular interactions in the vast Wnt network in the scientific community. Scientists have long hoped to understand Wnt better as a potential target for cancer treatment, and Grainger’s grant could assist in furthering research into developing targeted approaches to fix specific problems in the pathway, while leaving the rest untouched and producing fewer side effects.

The MIRA grant specifically will further Grainger and her team’s research into Wnt9a and Fzd9b molecules, which play a large role in the pathway’s chemical communication to and from cells. It is unclear, however, how these molecules enter the cell to deliver information.

“The Wnt pathway operates a careful balance — too much or too little Wnt activity can have devastating consequences,” Grainger said. “Solving the exact mechanism by which Wnt9a and Fzd9b carry out their job could have massive implications for therapeutic development and a ripple effect for understanding other parts of the pathway.”

Grainger is the second scientist at VAI to receive the MIRA grant in the past four years. Dr. Scott Rothbart last earned the award in 2017 for his research into epigenetic control mechanisms that regulate the genetic code.

To learn more about Grainger’s work, visit graingerlab.vai.org

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