Penn State College of Medicine researcher awarded international collaboration grant

April 29, 2004

James Connor, professor of neural and behavioral sciences in the College of Medicine, recently was awarded a Fogarty International Research Collaboration Award, which will support research projects with an investigator from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"Our proposal addresses a significant health problem, iron deficiency, which the World Health Organization has identified as the No. 1 worldwide health disorder," Connor said. "The proposed studies provide a unique opportunity to merge the strengths and interests of our two groups."

Connor, whose research focuses on how the brain uses and processes iron, will work with Juana Marie Pasquini, professor of biological chemistry at University of Buenos Aries. Pasquini's work addresses myelin, a substance in the brain that covers nerve cell connectors. Myelin, which requires iron, is important to facilitate nerve communication.

"This Fogarty grant will allow us to keep doing experiments of common interest, trying to clarify the role of iron in the myelination process," Pasquini said. "The grant also will allow us to share experiences, especially the different methods used in each of our laboratories."

Fogarty awards facilitate collaborative research between U.S. biomedical scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and investigators in developing countries. The awards extend and enhance the research interests of both the U.S. scientist and the collaborating scientist, and will help to increase the research capacity of the foreign scientist and institution. The award provides about $96,000 over three years to help cover travel, the purchase of supplies and equipment, and for technical assistance at the foreign collaborator's laboratory or research site.

"Money for research in Argentina is very scarce and this Fogarty grant will help our laboratory," Pasquini said. "The cost of reagents and chemicals is very high since we pay customs duties on them, despite being a nonprofit institution. With the funding obtained, our experiments will improve in efficiency and quality."

The effects of iron deficiency in infants and children can last a lifetime and include impaired cognitive development. About 60 percent of the infants in Latin America and Argentina are iron-deficient, due to either lack of dietary iron, or the high degree of parasitic infections that inhibit iron absorption. Iron deficiency may lead to abnormal myelination, which has been documented in these infants.

Connor's laboratory was the first to discover iron-binding proteins in nerve cells and the first to make the connection between iron and myelination. In the past few years, Pasquini's laboratory has observed that intracranial injections of apotransferrin, an iron-binding protein, increase the amount of myelin in the brain.

"For this project, we will merge our strengths to find the specific relationship between iron and myelin and determine if injections of apotransferrin can overcome myelin deficits," Connor said. "This would offer a possible therapeutic intervention for children and adults with myelin deficiencies."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009