We learned recently that Juliet Spencer, Associate Professor of Biology, has again lassoed a prestigious research grant from the National Institutes of Health, (NIH). Her grant pace is comparable to that of some scientists at larger universities, the folks who have swarms of PhD students and miniscule teaching commitments.
Juliet joined us in 2003, after spending about four years in local biotech. Her great “real world” experience has been a huge boon for USF, the Biology Department, and our students.
On the occasion of her new grant (totaling roughly $400,000 of new funds for USF, her lab, and her student research assistants), we pestered Juliet with some questions about the new honor and the scientific task at hand. Many thanks for taking the time, Juliet!
How would you explain this particular project to a non-scientist?
We are studying a common human virus called cytomegalovirus, or CMV. Believe it or not, most people are infected with CMV but show no symptoms and don’t even know they are infected. For healthy people it’s not usually a problem, but for immune compromised people, like transplant recipients, or AIDS patients, CMV can cause very serious disease. The project that was just funded will allow us to investigate whether being infected with CMV has any impact on the development of cancer. We don’t think the virus causes cancer, but we are going to examine whether being infected might increase the chances of a tumor becoming more invasive and forming secondary tumors. If this is true, treating some cancer patients with antiviral drugs might help improve their prognosis.
I’m not sure that most people understand how difficult it can be to secure such a grant, since there are so many applications now. Just to give readers some context, do you know what % of grant applications were awarded funds in this specific program?
In 2010, 19% of these grants were funded.
Have your colleagues in biology been a good resource for such successful grant writing?
Yes, this is my third proposal funded by the NIH, and I’m very fortunate to have colleagues in the Biology department who are willing to take time to critique my grant proposals. I believe my success has been due in part to the fact that I can incorporate their feedback and address those comments before submitting the final proposal. This helps me present a really solid research plan, and I’m very grateful to the NIH for their continued support.
What will this grant mean to the students in your laboratory — will there be more students, or just better supported students?
Both – the grant will provide stipends for student researchers, both undergraduates and Master’s students. It will also help us buy the supplies for students to conduct these molecular experiments, as well as travel to conferences to share our results and get input from other scientists in the field.
What are you most excited about with the coming of the new science center? Our readers know it is focused on teaching, but do you see a positive research by-product in it?
I look forward to the opportunity to teach our students in new, modern laboratories. In terms of research, I think that having state-of-the art teaching labs will help generate even more interest and enthusiasm for careers in research among our students.
Godspeed to Juliet and her students. The issue of how cancer spreads is fairly wide open, and obviously it’s a critical question for medical science.