Professor Susan Gilbert Receives $2 Million NIH MERIT Award PDF Print

Long-term grant recognizes a legacy of outstanding research contributions

July 25, 2013

Susan Gilbert, professor and head of the Department of Biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been awarded a National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council National Institutes of Health (NIH) Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award, a recognition of the high quality of her research contributions over time. The MERIT Award offers long-term grant support to investigators of proven research competence and productivity and is expected to facilitate creative, innovative research that will have an exceptional impact on the field.

“Susan is to be congratulated for a very significant and rare achievement in earning an NIH MERIT award,” said Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer. “It’s a well-earned recognition of the long-standing, extremely high quality of her research. The award provides her the freedom to explore cutting-edge scientific ideas in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. The National Institutes of Heath are to be commended for working to enable their researchers to seek paradigm-shifting breakthroughs.” 

The MERIT grant will support Gilbert’s continuing research of kinesins, a class of molecular motors that ferry cargo along the cytoskeleton of a cell. The overall goal of her research proposal is to understand how the mechanochemistry of kinesin motors underlies their ability to promote intracellular transport, generation of cell polarity, and remodeling of the microtubule cytoskeleton for cell division, cell differentiation, and morphogenesis during human development. Her work could shed light on diverse pathologies that have been linked to defects in kinesins, including cancer, ciliopathies, neuropathies, and birth defects. Gilbert’s research contributes to the School of Science interdisciplinary science theme of “biomedical science and applications.”

“NIGMS selected Dr. Gilbert for a MERIT award in recognition of her pioneering work on microtubule motor proteins, which has set the standard for other researchers in the field,” said Joe Gindhart, Ph.D., the program director who manages Gilbert’s NIGMS grant. “Her work has the potential to enhance our understanding of how motor proteins work to segregate chromosomes, build cilia and move organelles in nerve cells, and to help explain how defects in motor protein function contribute to cancer, neurological diseases, and other conditions.”

The MERIT award includes an initial award of about $2 million over five years, accompanied by the opportunity of funding for an additional three to five years. “I am thrilled to receive the NIH MERIT Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which has funded my research program since 1996,” said Gilbert. “The overarching goal of my research program is to understand how molecular motors generate force and to apply this insight to understand their roles in cell organization and function in normal and in diseased states. This award will allow us to continue this important fundamental research and to pursue higher risk scientific questions to define the relationships between kinesin structure, mechanochemistry, and function.”

Gilbert received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and a doctorate in cell biology from Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on cellular movements, and the molecular motors that drive these movements to better understand cellular function and dysfunctions. She performed much of her early research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. She completed her postdoctoral research at Pennsylvania State University. Gilbert received an NIH Career Development Award through the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Gilbert is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a member of the Biophysical Society serving as a member of Council and chair of the membership committee, a member of the American Society for Cell Biology, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She served on the editorial boards for the Biophysical Journal, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Nanomedicine, and Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine.