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Zanic’s research recognized with 2016 Searle Scholarship

April 29, 2016 | Bill Snyder


Cell and Developmental Biology’s Marija Zanic, Ph.D., was recently named a 2016 Searle Scholar. (photo by Anne Rayner)

An expert in the dynamic behavior of the microtubule cytoskeleton at Vanderbilt University is among 15 scientists in the chemical and biological sciences nationwide who have been named 2016 Searle Scholars.

Marija Zanic, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will receive $300,000 in flexible funding from the Searle Scholars Program to support her research over the next three years.

“I am thrilled that our research and its potential are recognized by the Searle Scholars Program,” Zanic said. “This award will help us uncover the fundamental principles governing dynamic remodeling of polymer networks inside of cells.”

Searle Scholars are selected for their potential to make significant contributions to chemical and biological research over the course of their careers. This year’s scholars were pulled from 196 applicants nominated by 137 universities and research institutions.

“Each of these amazing young scientists is taking cutting-edge approaches to answer fundamental questions in chemistry and the biological and biomedical sciences,” the program’s scientific director, Doug Fambrough, Ph.D., said in a news release.

“They have thought deeply about how their discoveries might benefit ‘people-kind,’” Fambrough said. “We expect great things to come from their work, and we are delighted to be able to give an early boost to their careers.”

A native of Croatia, Zanic earned her Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin in 2007. She did postdoctoral work at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and at Yale University before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2014.

Microtubules are intracellular filaments that build dynamic cellular structures essential for cell division, shape, motility, and transport of intracellular cargos. Because of their key role in critical cellular processes, microtubules are a common target for chemotherapeutic agents, and many of their regulating proteins are implicated in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Zanic said her laboratory unites the tools of molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, biophysics, engineering and physics to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of active microtubule organization, of vital importance for living cells.

Since 1981, 572 scientists have been awarded more than $124 million in grants by the Searle Scholars Program, including Zanic and five others who were Vanderbilt faculty members at the time of their selection.

They are Al Beth, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, 1982); Kathleen Gould, Ph.D., (Cell and Developmental Biology, 1992); Kenneth Catania, Ph.D., and Antonis Rokas, Ph.D. (Biological Sciences, 2001, 2008), and Eric Skaar, Ph.D. (Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, 2006).

The Searle Scholars Program is funded through grants from the family trusts to the Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation, the private operating foundation that manages the institutional philanthropy of the Searle Family.