UNCW Assistant Professor Jacob Warner Receives $413,836 National Institutes of Health Grant

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

UNCW assistant professor Jacob Warner has been awarded a $413,836 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study cell movements during embryonic development of the sea urchin.
Warner and his research team will examine how a group of genes regulate the complex processes of early development, called the “epithelial to mesenchymal transition,” that ultimately results in gastrulation and the formation of several tissues in the developing embryo. 

“This award demonstrates the role that marine model systems can play in advancing our understanding of basic cellular processes and how they intersect with human health,” said Warner, who joined UNCW in 2019 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nice, France.

Warner noted some of the most important discoveries in cellular biology and embryology have come from sea urchins, including how cells divide, the mechanics of fertilization and how tissues are built in a developing embryo.

“While our particular study system is a developing sea urchin embryo, these same cell movements occur in a variety of contexts such as when immune cells migrate to the site of an injury or when cancer cells invade surrounding tissues,” he said. “By better understanding how these cellular movements are coordinated at a fundamental level, we can hopefully better treat diseases in which they play a role.”

Heather Koopman, chair of the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, said the award speaks volumes to the quality of faculty being hired and the experiences they will give UNCW students. The grant provides resources to support and train graduate and undergraduate students.

“This is a very prestigious grant, and it is especially impressive that Dr. Warner has been awarded it as he is quite early in his career,” Koopman said.

“Our research is interdisciplinary and involves undergraduate students working on everything from computer modeling to bioinformatics to molecular biology,” Warner said. “These skills are in high demand in the biomedical and biotechnology sectors, and a key goal of this project is to train students for careers in these fields."

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15GM139113. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

--Venita Jenkins