Biophysics Professor Becomes the First Recipient at Kent State of an R35 Grant from the National Institutes of Health
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded a $1.86 million grant to Thorsten-Lars Schmidt, Ph.D., to develop molecular tools that help researchers to understand membrane proteins. This is the first time a professor at Kent State has been awarded this impressive grant.
The R35 or “Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award” (MIRA) provides promising researchers with a five-year funding for a broader research program, rather than funding a specific project. This gives investigators a lot of freedom to develop new research directions as opportunities arise, rather than being bound to specific aims of a more narrow study. This flexibility makes this an extremely competitive grant.
In 2021, Schmidt received a two-year-grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for $300,000 for a similar topic, before learning that he would also be awarded this MIRA. Both are held to a high regard within the scientific community. Receiving the two is both an honor and recognition of the high-quality research being executed within the university.
“This is like winning the jackpot in a lottery,” Schmidt, assistant professor of the Department of Physics in the College of Arts & Sciences, said. “The MIRA is one of the biggest awards that researchers at my career stage can receive. It gives me a lot of long-term planning security and the resources I need to develop my research.”
The award will not only cover the cost for research-related expenses but will also provide training and research opportunities for junior scientists for five years. Schmidt has already hired a postdoctoral researcher and will offer additional projects to graduate, undergraduate and high school students.
Schmidt and his team develop molecular tools that will help to determine the molecular structures of membrane proteins, which are among the least understood components of cells.
“Cells would quickly die without the membrane proteins that are incorporated in every cell membrane. Moreover, they play important roles in virtually all transmittable or genetic diseases,” Schmidt said. The importance of membrane proteins was highlighted by the 2021 Nobel prize for medicine for the study of ion channels, which are a special class of membrane proteins that Schmidt and his team will also work on.
To better equip students with a broad, interdisciplinary perspective on molecular life sciences, Schmidt developed and began teaching an introductory biophysics course at Kent State Fall 2021 (PHY 44600 / 54600).
“It is important to teach these classes to expose students to this rather new field at the intersection of Physics, Biology and Chemistry that many students have not heard of before,” Schmidt said. “It's rewarding to see that students seem to like this type of science and research, and several students have expressed interest in joining my lab.”