Professor earns NIH grant for neurological research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 12, 2020

Martin Hudson
Martin Hudson

Kennesaw State associate professor of molecular biology Martin Hudson has earned a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a study that seeks to identify genes involved in neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

The three-year, $406,500 grant will enable Hudson to continue his research on neurogenins, which involves understanding how gene regulatory networks function. Ultimately, this research can offer clues as to why certain mutations interact with each other and create a diseased state. This is Hudson’s second major NIH grant since 2016.

“We are looking at how naturally occurring mutations, which individually might have little to no effect in the body, interact with each other such that two mutations in combination might lead to these types of diseases,” Hudson explained. “Specifically, this study will focus on how changes in gene control might create a phenotype or disease and how those networks of gene control interactions function, hopefully bringing us closer to isolating a cause and finding a cure for these diseases.”

In conducting the study, Hudson and his team will use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a tiny worm with a nervous system that shares some similarities to that of humans. This will allow the researchers to gain deep insights into how neural circuits form.

“Figuring these developments and mutations out in a worm is relatively easy and since worms regenerate quickly, we are able to study several generations over a brief period of time,” Hudson said. “The great thing is that at least 50 percent of worm genes have an ortholog in humans, making the information we glean from the worm applicable to understanding human genes.”

Hudson has been studying neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and autism since he arrived at KSU in 2010. He credits his team of student researchers who work with him in his lab, particularly Elyse Christensen, who graduated in 2019 and earned her master’s degree in integrative biology.

“This is a tribute to the hard work done by our team of student researchers who work with me in the lab,” Hudson said. “Elyse, in particular, did a study which was funded internally through KSU’s Office of Research. I believe that it was her published paper that attracted the attention of the NIH. When I texted to tell her we got funded on this project and it wouldn’t have happened without her work, she was thrilled.”

Dedicated to student-driven research, Hudson said he’ll use the grant to fund a master’s student and his team of undergraduates, who have served as co-authors of Hudson’s studies in recent years.

“I think experiential learning is so important that I want to be able to give that back as well,” he said. “They’re the backbone of my research team and critical to the work we do. I want to give students a chance to work in the lab and perhaps find something they’re passionate about.”

– Dave Shelles

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