Shakirov wins highly competitive NIH R01 grant to continue research

Dr. Eugene Shakirov (pictured), an assistant professor of biological sciences at Marshall University, was awarded a $1.18 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH R01 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences will support his research, “Genetic and epigenetic architecture of natural telomere length variation.”

The highly competitive grant award is a renewal of his earlier award (2018-2022) and will continue to fund his research on telomeres, the physical ends of chromosomes which shorten with age.

Shakirov is the principal investigator and will work with a team of collaborators from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University with expertise in biochemistry, genomics and computational biology. An R01 grant is among the most competitive grants issued by the NIH, and Shakirov’s may be one of the largest to be received by Marshall’s Department of Biological Sciences.

“Dr. Shakirov joined Marshall’s Department of Biological Sciences in Fall 2019, and despite the pandemic taking a toll on research he has maintained an active and productive lab including mentoring of graduate and undergraduate research students,” said Brian Antonsen, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. “This very competitive grant, among the largest ever received by a member of our faculty, will enable him to continue his important work to understand critical processes underlying ageing and disease.”

Prior to joining the Marshall University faculty in 2019, Shakirov worked as a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a doctorate in Biochemistry from Texas A&M University and a doctorate in Microbiology from Kazan State University in Russia.

According to Shakirov, telomeres in humans shorten with age, and their initial length at birth pre-determines cellular lifespan.

“Failure to properly regulate telomere length leads to cancer, premature aging and age-related disorders. However, the exact genes establishing proper telomere length remain to be discovered, and their discovery may lead to substantial progress in aging and cancer-related research,” he said.

“Our research aims to discover novel genes regulating telomere length using the unique biological and genomic resources in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana,” Shakirov continued. “Because telomere length regulation mechanisms are highly conserved between animals and plants, our data may provide important insights into the genetic variants predisposing individuals to telomere-associated stem cell, cancer and age-related diseases.”

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