Dean's Fund Fosters Research Results

Balkowiec Lab

Agnieszka Balkowiec, M.D., Ph.D., has been studying brainstem neurons for the past 11 years during her faculty appointment at OHSU School of Dentistry. Like many of her research colleagues, finding funding these days can be a challenge, particularly for a subject like the brainstem which is extremely complex and considered a “high-risk” project for which to pay.

“In the current funding climate, any grant proposal based on such a challenging project must be accompanied by very strong preliminary data to demonstrate that the impossible is, in fact, possible,” said Dr. Balkowiec, an associate professor of integrative biosciences. “In order to generate such data, it was critical to find a sponsor who would believe in us and the project itself.”

Enter the Dean’s Fund for Research Support. Last November, Dr. Balkowiec applied to the then-newly created fund made possible through generous philanthropic gifts to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence. Her research proposal aimed to identify the molecule responsible for the hampered growth of brainstem neurons that control the vital cardiorespiratory system, and she was one of two recipients selected in 2012, receiving $40,000 for a one-year study.

Thanks to the Dean’s Fund for Research Support, Dr. Balkowiec was able to create a research position for Carly Hernandez, B.S., a “very talented young scientist who has already helped us overcome the first serious challenge by establishing optimal basal growth conditions for brainstem neurons in vitro,” said Dr. Balkowiec. “We have also begun testing the effects of various growth factors on morphology of neurons from cardiorespiratory control areas of the brainstem. The results are very encouraging and every day we have new data to influence our ideas for future experiments and new grant applications.”

Dr. Balkowiec said the Dean’s Fund for Research Support has also enabled her team to continue vital research collaborations to better understand related mechanisms of cardiorespiratory regulation, including brainstem circuits. She is currently preparing several manuscripts for publication, on behalf of her lab and other collaborative projects. The fund also created several research training opportunities for dental students and undergraduate students.

“I am enormously thankful for this new funding from our school,” said Dr. Balkowiec. “It has provided the critically-needed seed money for this important project that may someday lead to the prevention and treatment of cardiorespiratory disorders, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Rett Syndrome, and hypertension. “The Dean’s Fund has made a real difference in our research by giving us means to launch a challenging, exciting, and important new line of biomedical research.”