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Bai’s $1.2 million NSF CAREER award to advance treatment of liver, heart and neurodegenerative diseases

Hua Bai, genetics, development and cell biology assistant professor
Hua Bai, genetics, development and cell biology assistant professor

Iowa State University research faculty member Hua Bai received a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award to continue the development of interventions for treating liver, heart and neurodegenerative diseases. The award is for Bai’s research program entitled, “Understanding Peroxisomal Stress Responses.”

An assistant professor in genetics, development, and cell biology (GDCB), Bai said, “Our research aims to delineate novel peroxisomal stress response pathways involved in maintaining cellular and metabolic homeostasis. The identification of these signaling pathways is expected to significantly contribute to the development of interventions for the treatment of peroxisome biogenesis diseases and age-related diseases, which include liver, heart and neurodegenerative diseases.”

As an essential subcellular compartment, the peroxisome is an indispensable organelle for lipid metabolism. Functioning peroxisomes are vital to cellular and metabolic homeostasis. Loss of peroxisomal function can be detrimental. However, how cells monitor and maintain peroxisomal function remains largely unanswered.

Bai said, “we will use advanced genome editing and imaging techniques to uncover stress responses and surveillance systems used by cells to cope with dysfunctional peroxisomes. The discovery of novel peroxisomal stress response signaling will significantly advance our understanding of cellular adaptation to dysregulated peroxisome function, as well as the mechanisms underlying human genetic diseases with peroxisome biogenesis disorder.”

Dr. Hua Bai (standing, fourth from left) and the Bai Lab research group
The Dr. Hua Bai group conducts research on interventions for treating liver, heart and neurodegenerative diseases.

As part of this project, the Bai group plans to integrate peroxisome research into innovative educational activities. The activities will allow students to gain hands-on experiences in genetic and cell biology research. The activities will include:

  • The development of an innovative undergraduate laboratory course. It will provide students with hands-on experience in genome editing and imaging techniques through course-based undergraduate research experiences.
  • The engagement of undeclared students in genetic and cell biology research through partnership with The Sky is the Limit learning community.

The goal of these integrated education programs is to engage larger and more diverse groups of undergraduate students in biology research; thereby making basic research more inclusive.

The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious honor in support of early-career faculty members who serve as exemplary teacher-scholars through outstanding research, teaching excellence, and the integration of education and research.

Bai is one of five ISU researchers to receive an NSF CAREER award during the 2021 fiscal year. An Office of the Vice President for Research article, "Five Iowa State researchers receive NSF CAREER awards," showcases Bai and the other recipients.