Assistant Research Scientist Eleni Gourgou has received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) K01 Career Development Award, for her proposal titled “Deciphering aging-driven cognitive decline in C. elegans spatial memory and learning through an interdisciplinary approach”.
The prestigious and highly competitive K01 award is designed to support early career tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty, committed to research, in need of both advanced research training and additional experience. It includes a research plan and a career development plan. Eleni is the first ME faculty to receive this award.
The funds will be provided through the National Institute of Aging (NIA), with a 5-year budget, that adds up to ~$600,000.
Eleni will use these funds to work on aging-driven decline of spatial cognitive behaviors. Human cognition differs from animal cognition, however cognitive behaviors like memory, learning, decision making, and information processing are widely observed even in invertebrate animals. C. elegans nematode is an exemplary model organism in both biology of aging and neurobiology. Cognitive behaviors (memory, learning and decision making) are being steadily clarified using C. elegans worms, but still little is known about their spatial navigation and learning. Eleni is using C. elegans as a model system to better understand aging-driven cognitive decline and its mechanisms, many of which are evolutionarily conserved in higher organisms, including humans. K01-related research includes two research thrusts, one experimental and one computational. Thus, by combining experimental and computational efforts, Eleni aims to identify "aging hubs" in the cognition-related neuronal networks.
The K01 research plan is based on Eleni’s background in physiology, neurobiology and her engineering experience. Together with the career development plan, they aim to strengthen and expand her knowledge in genetics, behavioral studies, and computational neuroscience in order for her to grow into a uniquely positioned independent investigator in contemporary neurobiology of aging. To achieve her goals, Eleni will collaborate with faculty and students from University of Michigan Medical School, Mechanical Engineering Department, Department of Mathematics, and Life Sciences Institute, and with faculty from Wayne State University, Detroit.