Biology and Chemistry Faculty Awarded Grants for Research in Male Infertility, Breast Cancer, and Supercritical Fluids

Dr. Margarita Vigodner was awarded a $300,000 grant for her research on the effects of second-hand smoke on male infertility.

Jun 26, 2008 — Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women professors will tackle male infertility, breast cancer, and supercritical fluids as recipients of three substantial science grants totaling close to half a million dollars.

Dr. Margarita Vigodner, assistant professor of biology at Stern College, was awarded a $300,000 Young Clinical Scientist Award by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) for her research on the effects of second-hand smoke on male infertility.

Using laboratory mice as human surrogates and advanced cell analysis, Vigodner and two undergraduate students in the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern will assess the changes in the animals’ testicular genes following their exposure to second-hand smoke. Her research is based on ten years of experience in the field of spermatogenesis (the development of sperm), male fertility, and reproduction health.

Male partners are responsible for infertility in at least half of all human couples, and for 39 percent of infertile men, their infertility is of an unknown cause or origin. Vigodner is working hard to identify its roots, and believes that “the problem of male infertility will be overcome in the foreseen future,” she said.

Dr. Marina Holz, assistant professor of biology at Stern, will study the role of the S6 Kinase 1 (S6K1) gene in breast cancer through a three-year, $75,000 grant from the Elias Genevieve and Georgianna Atol Charitable Trust.

After spending several years researching the molecular mechanisms of S6K1, Holz observed that the gene was over-expressed in cancers, especially breast cancer.

“I would like to identify specific targets of S6K1 in breast cancer that control cell proliferation and contribute to the cancerous phenotype,” said Holz. “The funds from this grant will help support acquisition of new equipment and reagents [chemical compounds] for the project.”

She will be working with Stern graduates Rachel Yamnik ’08S and Nilly Brodt ’08S, and current students Alla Digilova and Daphne Davis.

The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund has awarded Dr. Bruce Hrnjez, associate professor of chemistry at Yeshiva College, $65,000 for his research on solvent effects in supercritical fluids. Yeshiva College will match $55,000 of that funding, for a total of $120,000 over three years.

Hrnjez’s work focuses on a molecule’s surroundings; the medium in which a molecule is dissolved can have an effect on the way the molecule vibrates, rotates, and interacts with light, and the way its chemical bonds break or form in a chemical reaction.

“Molecules are somewhat like people,” explained Hrnjez. “Environment affects behavior.”

Hrnjez, who has spearheaded the rebirth of experimental scientific research at Yeshiva College , created an experimental research laboratory in Belfer Hall on the Wilf Campus. His first paper to come out of this research appeared in 2005 in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, with student coauthors Samuel Sultan ’05Y, Georgiy Natanov ’07Y, David Kastner ’05Y, and Michael Rosman ’05Y.

For Hrnjez, the grant means more than just financial support for an important investigation. “It is external recognition from my peers that I have created a viable research program at Yeshiva College,” explained Hrnjez. “It is also external recognition of strong support from the Yeshiva administration.”

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