Published: Sept. 24, 2013

New research at cellular level might someday yield big results

Contact(s): Laura Probyn College of Osteopathic Medicine office: (517) 884-3755

Monique Floer, an MSU assistant professor of biochemistry, is embarking on a study to look at how macrophages, a type of cell that is part of the immune system, can express specific genes for specific functions and why other cells cannot.

Her work is being funded by a three-year, $210,000 American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant. These grants are given to young investigators who are in their first four years holding an independent position.

Floer’s study is focused on the composition of macrophages and how those components might play a role in influencing how genes act — or don't act — in response to attacks on the immune system.

“Macrophages are the first cells to respond to infection and are necessary for wound healing,” Floer says. “That’s why we’re interested in heart disease — because macrophages play an important role in atherosclerosis.”

Floer’s approach is unique because she will be using a quantitative assay — a method of examining the chromatin that will make it possible to very precisely determine the quantity of nucleosomes in a population of cells. Chromatin is the combination of the DNA and the other proteins packed in the cell nucleus.

“It’s surprising how little we still know,” she says. “We’ve been studying this for a long time and we know basic principles, but there are a lot of things we don’t understand. These are very fundamental questions we are asking.”