Assistant professor receives NIH grant to study genetic regulators of sleep

Alex Keene awarded more than $1.4 million dollars to study the link between sleep and metabolism

7/1/2014 - By: Annie Conway
Keene University of Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, Alex Keene, received a National Institutes of Health R01 award for more than $1.4 million to research the link between sleep and metabolism by studying the genes in the fruit fly.

University of Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, Alex Keene, received a National Institutes of Health R01 award to research the role of neural translin in metabolic control of sleep. He will receive more than $1.4 million throughout the next five years to identify and characterize genes which are involved with integrating sleep and metabolism.

According to Keene, epidemiological studies reveal a strong link between sleep and metabolism but little is known about how these processes are integrated. People who are chronically sleep deprived are much more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease. By studying fruit flies he will be able to gain scientific insight into this link.  Keene has used genetic screening to identify the gene translin in regulating metabolism. 

"Even though flies look very different than us, their genes are very similar," Keene said. "A number of genes that are critical for regulating our sleep and daily activity cycles were first identified in the fruit fly."

Last year Keene received a National Institutes of Health R15 grant to study the role of insulin in regulating sleep in flies and a National Science Foundation to study the evolution of sleep in the Mexican cavefish Mexican cavefish.  

"The competition for funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Sciences Foundation is incredibly fierce and only a small percentage of submitted proposals are successful," Jack Hayes, professor and acting chair of the biology department, said. "The National Institutes of Health RO1 award is the gold standard of individual investigator awards. Simultaneously getting three nationally competitive grants is truly impressive."

Keene is also one of five faculty members at the University who are part of a five year, $10 million dollar Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) research grant to build a Center for Neuroscience at the University of Nevada, Reno. COBRE supports junior faculty's neuroscience research in the College of Liberal Arts, College of Science and College of Engineering. As part of this grant, Keene has been researching how memories are affected by sleep deprivation. According to Keene, the COBRE funding helped him collect preliminary data for his R01 proposal and brought together colleagues in different departments using integrative approaches to understand brain function.

"I was very excited," Keene said. "I'm very grateful for receiving this research support.  We firmly believe this basic research has potential improve our understanding of diabetes and obesity. We will work very hard over the next five years to make the most of this opportunity" 


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