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Prestigious Award

Written by Annie Beckmann
September 28, 2015

Seattle University's College of Science and Engineering recently received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that recognizes the university's growth as a mature research environment.

Joe Langenhan, associate professor of chemistry, is principal investigator for the $231,000 NIH grant (R-15GM109839) titled "Methodology for the Synthesis of Structurally Homogeneous N-Linked Glycopeptides."

The NIH grant recognizes Seattle U as a school that supports meritorious research, exposes students to research and strengthens the research environment of the institution, according to Associate Provost Bill Ehmann.

"This shows that Seattle U can compete at a high level in areas that are important to us," Ehmann says.

The Office of Research Services and Sponsored Projects, led by Nalini Iyer, has had a record year, doubling the number of grant submissions since fiscal year 2012. Currently, the university has $10.5 million in active grants, up $2.1 million over last year. An estimated 120 student workers are supported by research grants at Seattle U.

"The growth of our grants efforts has increased these research experiences for our students," says Iyer. "When faculty researchers bring in prestigious grants, our undergraduates have opportunities to grow as researchers themselves."

The first chemist to receive NIH funds to conduct discovery-based research at Seattle U, Langenhan (above, right) says the grant is expected to support him and as many as a half dozen undergraduates over three summers.

 He uses an analogy to describe the nature of this work.

"Imagine you've heard an orchestra recording for the first time, but you've never heard each musical instrument individually," says Langenhan. "You'd have no way of knowing what contribution each instrument makes to the overall ensemble of sound. To figure it out, you'd have to make a violin and play it.

"'Glycopeptides' play many very important roles in biological communication events that lead to things such as fertilization or infection. Unfortunately, scientists historically have had difficulty determining what individual glycopeptides are responsible for doing because we're only good at making mixtures (orchestras) of them," he continues. "Our project involves developing a method to make them individually, so scientists can determine what each one does. This knowledge could ultimately lead to improvements in human health."

This article will appear in a forthcoming issue of Seattle University Magazine.