Thirty-Six and Counting—NIH Award Tops Three Decades of Discovery

With a recent five-year, $2 million grant renewal from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Robert Silverman, PhD, staff, Department of Cancer Biology, Lerner Research Institute, has now received 36 years of NIH funding for the same project—a rare and impressive accomplishment.

The project—which has received funding from two separate NIH institutes over the years, including the National Cancer Institute and NIAID most recently—investigates the role interferons play in protecting the body from viruses and cancer. Interferons are proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of pathogens. Dr. Silverman is particularly interested in how the enzyme system OAS-RNase L, which protects higher vertebrates from both RNA and DNA viruses, contributes to this process.

As often happens, however, viruses have adapted and evolved to inhibit OAS-RNase L (referred to as RNase henceforth) activity. With this award, Dr. Silverman continues on in his decades-long quest to better understand how exactly RNase works on a cellular and molecular level. This knowledge may help researchers prevent harmful viruses from evading the protective effects of RNase, and therefore reduce viral infections and their often serious negative health effects. Specifically, his team looks to better understand how RNase is regulated, mediates cell death and activates the inflammasome—a complex set of proteins involved in inflammation and innate immunity. Additionally, they seek to uncover how RNase inhibitors function.

"I am very thankful for and proud of NIH's long-time support of my work," said Dr. Silverman. "It's amazing to look back and see how our understanding of the interferon system has advanced over the last three decades. I look forward to seeing how our knowledge of this remarkable pathway evolves even further over the next phase of this project."

Dr. Silverman holds the Mal and Lea Bank Chair and has been honored by Cleveland Clinic with Innovator Awards and the Sam and Maria Miller Scientific Achievement Award in Basic Research.