UT Southwestern researcher receives prestigious NIH award

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Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

DALLAS – Oct. 14, 2016 — Dr. Rama Ranganathan, Director of the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has been awarded a prestigious 2016 Transformative Research Award from the National Institutes of Health's Common Fund.

The grant is one of 88 awarded as part of the NIH's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. The Transformative Research Award – one of four award categories – promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches in research with potential to create or challenge existing paradigms.

Of 12 award recipients in this category, Dr. Ranganathan is the only researcher from a Texas institution. In the overall grant program, three other Texas researchers received awards.

Dr. Ranganathan, a Professor in the Green Center for Systems Biology with additional appointments in Biophysics and Pharmacology, will lead a project titled "Seeing Protein Mechanics: The Link between Molecular Structure, Function, and Evolution." He is known for his lectures to summer research students on a systems biology approach to science that is marked by the search for fundamental physical laws of biological processes.

"Proteins are molecular machines that carry out the vast majority of the chemical reactions necessary for life. Understanding their mechanism of action is critical for understanding both healthy and disease states," he said. "We propose an approach which, for the first time, will allow us to visualize protein motions with atomic-scale accuracy, a key step in explaining how they work."

Dr. Ranganathan's research group devised a way to use electrical fields and X-ray crystallography to capture images over time of proteins in action.

The Ranganathan laboratory focuses on understanding the basic principles of structure, function, and evolution in biological systems, with a particular focus on the atomic and cellular scale. His work has led to new models for the architecture of natural proteins and to new experimental tools for studying the physics and evolution of proteins and cellular systems.

A faculty member since 1997, Dr. Ranganathan earned his bachelor's degree in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by an M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. His postdoctoral work included research on voltage-gated potassium channels as a Life Sciences Research Foundation fellow at Harvard Medical School and on protein X-ray crystallography at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.

Dr. Ranganathan, who holds the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Chair in Biomedical Science and the Lyda Hill Endowment for Systems Biology, has received honors that include the Glenn Award for Research, the Outstanding Teacher Award, and the Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award for Basic Science.

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About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution's faculty includes many distinguished members, including six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of almost 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.

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