Golovko receives major NIH grant to study metabolism in the brain

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $2.3 million R01 grant to Mikhail Golovko, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS).

The new R01 grant, the most prestigious research award of its type the NIH provides, will allow Dr. Golovko’s team to continue its study of a unique mechanism for brain-blood regulation specifically focused on understanding how the brain controls oxygen and nutrient uptake.

“Understanding brain metabolism and the ways to correct it under pathophysiological conditions has long been a research interest of mine,” said Golovko, whose lab has maintained uninterrupted NIH funding for the past 12 years, including multiple R01 and R21 category grants. “The grant will also allow our lab to explore long-term blood supply regulation in the brain, including novel vessel formation, a process called angiogenesis.”

According to Golovko, either too much or too little angiogenesis in the brain can be problematic. Decreased angiogenesis may cause brain ischemia (stroke), neurodegeneration, and increase age-related damage, while increased angiogenesis has been linked to the development of brain tumors and other pathologies. And because brain angiogenesis is critically important for recovery after stroke and traumatic brain injury, a better understanding of the mechanisms regulating adult cerebral angiogenesis can help researchers identify new therapies for these conditions.

And now, Golovko’s team has a green light from the NIH to further pursue its work on developing a way to control angiogenesis.

“Our novel mechanism for modulating brain angiogenesis was originally discovered using mass spectrometry,” continued Golovko, who is also director of the SMHS Mass Spectrometry Core, describing the lab technique used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions in a solid or liquid sample. “Mass spectrometry allowed us to look at all the molecules in a sample of brain tissue and view any alterations under different conditions. Using this approach, we found a novel signaling molecule that is increased under conditions that require angiogenesis, and showed its pro-angiogenic properties.”

Colin Combs, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, noted that Golovko’s award was only the latest in a series of impressive awards the SMHS has received over the past several months.

In fact, the School is coming off its best research year ever in terms of dollars awarded. Researchers based at the school pulled in a record $30.8 million in 2019-20 from all external sources for projects focused not only on neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but cancer, Indigenous health, and various infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

“External funding aside, this and many other discoveries at UND would be impossible without substantial support from the School of Medicine & Health Sciences Dean’s Office and from the University’s Vice President for Research Office, which helps keep the doors of the Mass Spectrometry Core facility opened for our researchers,” Combs said.

“As any other significant discovery, this project would be impossible without a team effort,” Golovko concluded. “We are very lucky have an outstanding collaborator, Dr. Combs, and an excellent postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Drew Seeger, who from the beginning contributed to the success of this project.”