Vol. 11 No. 12 - July, 2009

Szabo granted prestigious MERIT award

Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD
Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD

Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and associate dean for clinical and translational research, has joined the select group of UMass Medical School investigators to be honored with a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award. A symbol of scientific achievement in the research community since its introduction in 1986, the MERIT award is given to investigators who have established an excellent record of scientific productivity. Awarded as back-to-back five-year grants, the ten-year MERIT award provides continuous support that eliminates administrative burdens as well as inherent uncertainty associated with the grant renewal process.

Dr. Szabo will receive $1.8 million over the next five years from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for her project, “HCV, Alcohol and Host Defense,” which has been funded for the past eight years. Szabo’s research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for 20 years.

“This grant is a basic translational T1 grant looking at mechanisms of innate immunity by hepatitis C virus (HCV) and how alcohol makes it worse,” explained Szabo. “We study the immune mechanisms by which alcohol affects the host immune response, especially in the liver, to undermine cellular processes that would otherwise eliminate the hepatitis C virus. Ours is one of very few labs looking at the combined effects of alcohol and HCV.”

A symbol of scientific achievement

in the research community since its introduction in 1986, the MERIT award is given to investigators who have established an excellent record of scientific productivity.

In just the last ten years, discoveries that have advanced understanding of the roles of toll-like receptors (TLRs), proteins that activate immune responses, in the development of liver disease have expanded the scope of Szabo’s work by clarifying how alcohol and HCV together accelerate liver damage. “We found that some HCV-induced mechanisms alone undermine innate immunity.” In light of the millions of HCV- inf ec ted individuals who consume alcohol, Szabo said, “With the ultimate goal to develop targeted therapeutic agents to battle the combined deleterious effects of alcohol and HCV, our work is clinically relevant to slowing the progression of HCV disease and associated liver damage.”

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