|Brij Singh receives major grants for calcium research|
Brij Singh (biochemistry and molecular biology) recently scored a five-year, $1.22 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health to study vital calcium mechanisms in the body that can, when they don't work properly, lead to diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Sjörgens syndrome (a salivary gland dysfunction).
Singh, a former NIH researcher who is a native of India, also recently received a three-year, $405,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue related research that could define the mechanism and regulation of these channels, which could lead to tools to quickly, accurately, and noninvasively diagnose a person's chances of getting cancer and other diseases related to calcium signaling dysfunction.
Everything you do needs calcium, says Singh, who was on a team of five talented young researchers recruited by UND three years ago to contribute to the School of Medicines biomedical research effort under a five-year, $10.4 million NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant. Even something as simple as lifting a pencil requires a very specific calcium balance.
If that calcium mechanism-governed in the body by the so-called transient receptor potential protein, which Singh is studying, gets out of whack, things can go seriously wrong in the body, he notes. Singh is pursuing this research because that mechanism is still incompletely understood even though it is the key to many vital body processes, including the transmission of nerve signals such as those that tell us when something is too hot to touch.
When the calcium transport channel gets out of balance, and we're not sure why that happens, then the body goes into a disease state, he explains. That can be Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or heart disease -- they're all related to a calcium deficiency -- or cancer, which can result when too much calcium is released.
The NSF generally sponsors research that looks at how and why things happen; in Singh's research, that means understanding the specific biochemical mechanisms that control the body's calcium balance and its dysfunctions. The NIH sponsors research that relates directly to specific diseases and disorders and their treatment and cure, Singh says.
The NIH grant is very prestigious and extremely hard to get, says Gene Homandberg, chair of the biochemistry department. And to get both types of grants is even more unusual and is a clear testament to the high regard in which Dr. Singh's peers and other NIH and NSF scientists hold his work. We are very lucky to have him with us here.
The NIH awarded Singh $1,221,500 over five years specifically to investigate calciums function in the production and regulation of saliva. This grant was scored by NIH reviewers in the top 2 percent of all the grant applications received for this project.
Saliva performs a number of extremely important biological functions that are instrumental in maintaining oral (and digestive) health, Singh says. About 2 million people in the United States suffer from salivary gland dysfunction; but even though scientists understand that calcium is directly connected to that problem --Sjörgens syndrome -- the molecular mechanism is not clearly understood, he adds. Sjörgens syndrome can be, but is not always, associated with other autoimmune diseases, most commonly lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The results of our studies are expected to provide new insights into the role of calcium channels and the molecular mechanism involved in saliva secretion, Singh says. He aims eventually to develop a means of quickly and inexpensively testing for salivary gland dysfunction and, possibly, other calcium-dysfunction-related ailments.