Father Nicanor Austriaco, OP, awarded NIH grant

September 10, 2014

Yeast continues to be on the Most Wanted list at Providence College. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, has been awarded a three-year, $257,000 research grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). This is the second NIH grant Fr. Nicanor has won for the biology lab at Providence College since joining the faculty in 2005. The grant funds Fr. Nicanor’s research on “Genetic Dissection of Yeast Bax Inhibitor Function in UPR and Calcium Signaling.” That’s bad news for yeast, since the project means killing millions of yeast cells every day. Fr. Nicanor and his team of undergraduate assistants study cell death in this single-celled organism. Why yeast? Because of its short life cycle and prolific population. As Fr. Nicanor explains: “If you mess up today, you can do the experiment again tomorrow. If it is a mouse, it would take you a year to figure out you messed up.” But why kill yeast? Because how yeast dies may offer insights and solutions into cancer treatment. Cell death is a programmed response to hostile conditions; it is triggered by various stimuli like heat, dryness, or the presence of dangerous chemicals. Cell death is a normal process in organisms, allowing replacement and growth to occur—except in the case of cancer, where cells form tumors instead of dying. Understanding cell death mechanisms may lead to a better understanding, as well as offer possible solutions, to this malfunction of cells in various types of cancer. Fr. Nicanor joined the Order of Preachers in 1998 and was ordained a priest in 2004. Before joining the Order he received a Ph.D in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has taught courses in both theology and biology at Providence College since 2005. Alongside the NIH grant, Fr. Nicanor works under a grant from the BioLogos Foundation, developing accessible Thomistic responses to questions concerning evolution and the Christian doctrine of creation.

Image: Fr. Nicanor with students in his lab at PC

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