Neugebauer Receives Shaw Early Career Research Award

Photo of Monica NeugebauerMonica Neugebauer, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, is a 2024 recipient of the Shaw Early Career Research Award. The $200,000 award, sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF), supports tenure-track researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who are in the first 3 years of their appointment.

The unique grant was founded by Milwaukee resident Dorothy Shaw, who lost two sisters to cancer and, upon her death in 1980, devoted a large portion of her estate to supporting Wisconsin scientists committed to advancing cancer research. The grant is aimed at supporting nascent studies that shows promise but takes an unconventional approach to biological, biochemical, and cancer research.

For Neugebauer, who is wrapping up her first year at UW–Madison, the grant will help to support a new direction for her lab, exploring the biomedical applications achievable through directed evolution of proteins.

Directed evolution is a form of lab-based evolution. Mutated proteins are analyzed and selected in search of a specific function. Additional rounds of mutation and selection result in characteristics that increasingly improve the protein’s ability to perform the function of interest. Neugebauer is hoping to use this process to select for proteins which can help to attach molecules such as drugs to antibodies, which bring the drug directly to diseased cells.

“I’m interested in thinking about how we can selectively modify proteins to attach biomedically useful molecules to antibodies with high precision,” explains Neugebauer, “which would really improve the efficiency of how these molecules get delivered in the body to, in the case of cancer, a tumor site.”

The work will build off promising preliminary research which Neugebauer conducted with Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB) graduate students in her lab. “My graduate students have been instrumental in getting this project off the ground. I think there will be different directions we can take this research – different ways it can be applied.” says Neugebauer, who will use the funds in part to support one of her graduate students. “I’m grateful to have support from the Shaw Award and I’m excited that this branch of my lab’s research is gaining momentum.”

Written by Renata Solan.

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