Karolin Luger, CSU biomedical scientist has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Dr. Luger is the first in university history to be honored with the prestigious accolade and is the only person in Colorado awarded the prominent distinction this year.

Luger, who joined Colorado State in 1999, is one of the world’s foremost authorities in nucleosome structure, the basic unit for compacting DNA. She is one of 43 scientists chosen this year as investigators by the Chevy Chase, Md.-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an appointment that honors the nation’s most promising biomedical scientists.

“This prestigious appointment by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is an honor for Professor Luger and Colorado State University. We are proud of Dr. Luger’s accomplishments and pleased that she is receiving this well-deserved recognition,” said Colorado State President Larry Edward Penley. “This honor underscores the national prominence of our faculty and the growing reputation enjoyed by the university, particularly in areas of science that have major impacts on the health and wellness of people throughout the world.”

Hughes investigators range from Nobel laureates to outstanding young researchers working on potentially ground-breaking discoveries early in their careers. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute carefully selected investigators through a nationwide competition that began in 2004 when the organization asked approximately 200 universities, medical schools and institutes to nominate candidates who demonstrated exceptional promise within four to 10 years of their becoming independent scientists. More than 300 individuals were nominated.

“We want and expect them to be daring. These scientists are on the rapidly rising slope of their careers and have made surprising discoveries in a short period of time,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI’s president. “We have every reason to believe that they will use their creativity to extend the boundaries of scientific knowledge for many years to come.”

Luger, a member of Colorado State’s renowned Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, focuses her research on the structure and function of eukaryotic chromatin. She led an extraordinary scientific breakthrough that effectively solved the three-dimensional structure of the nucleosome. Nucleosome is the basic building block of chromatin, the material in which possibly billions of DNA base pairs are compacted in an individual cell nucleus. This work is now cited in nearly every modern textbook of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“Dr. Luger’s research addresses fundamental but extraordinarily significant questions about how and why genes are activated,” said Anthony Frank, provost and senior vice president of Colorado State. “The results may well provide missing links in our knowledge of the most basic and yet unexplained questions in human development.”

In her first year alone at Colorado State, Luger was awarded five grants totaling nearly $1.5 million for her research, including a major, five-year National Institutes of Health grant and the prestigious Searle Scholar Award; Luger is the only Colorado State professor to have ever won this award.

Luger also was named a Monfort Professor, one of the university’s top honors, in 2004. The award was established through a gift from the Monfort Family Foundation to help recruit and retain top-quality faculty.

Luger has established a productive laboratory research group at Colorado State, resulting in 24 peer-reviewed manuscripts since 1999. Luger has initiated highly productive collaborations with several laboratories within the university and throughout the world. As a result, Luger was recently one of four lead investigators of a successful W. M. Keck Foundation proposal that resulted in a $1.2 million award for research in Chromatin Structure and Function. This is only the second Keck Foundation award ever to be won by a Colorado State research group.

Luger earned a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics with honors from the University of Basel in Switzerland. She spent several years at the well regarded Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich before joining Colorado State. She is the author of more than 31 refereed articles in scientific journals.

Prior to Monday’s announcement of 43 new investigators, HHMI had 298 investigators at 64 host institutions around the country. Hughes investigators conduct basic biomedical research a variety of disciplines and often across interdisciplinary lines. In recent years, Hughes investigators have made significant discoveries related to AIDS, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, obesity and many other medical problems.

Investigators become employees of the HHMI but remain at their institutions as faculty members and researchers. In addition to paying their salaries and benefits, the Institute provides investigators with financial support for equipment, supplies and research personnel.

Established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the largest biomedical philanthropies in the world with an endowment of $12.8 billion at the close of its 2004 fiscal year. HHMI spent $573 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2004.

Visit HHMI News for more information about the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator awards.

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