Elçin Ünal and Gloria Brar, UC Berkeley associate professors of molecular and cell biology, have been named 2021 Innovation Fund investigators by the Pew Charitable Trusts, joining forces as one of six teams focused on “interdisciplinary research to tackle some of the most pressing questions in human biology and disease.”
Both Ünal and Brar are former Pew biomedical scholars — Ünal in 2014 and Brar in 2016 — and frequent collaborators. Together, they will investigate how stress response pathways regulate cellular aging and longevity.
Each team of investigators will receive $200,000 over two years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role innovative biomedical research plays in addressing global health problems,” said Molly Irwin, vice president for research and science at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Pew is proud to support the 2021 class of Innovation Fund investigators, who together will seek to answer some of the most pressing questions in health and science.”
The fund, created in 2017, was developed to promote synergy among program alumni, motivating researchers to collaborate on new proposals.
Ünal and Brar both study meiotic differentiation, the developmental program that produces eggs and sperm. Because meiosis includes processes that actively prevent age-related damage from being passed onto progeny, it can provide insights into the biology of aging and potential therapies to combat age-associated diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration.
Using imaging and genetic manipulation, Ünal focuses on how the meiotic gene expression program and organelle remodeling events drive cellular rejuvenation that naturally accompany meiotic differentiation. Brar focuses on gene regulation during meiosis and how it can go awry, and has constructed the most comprehensive map to date of gene expression throughout a cell differentiation program.