Nimrat Chatterjee, M.Sc., Ph.D., receives the prestigious NIH MIRA award

January 30, 2024 by Katelyn Queen, Ph.D.

Chatterjee receives the prestigious NIH MIRA award

Nimrat Chatterjee, M.Sc., Ph.D., assistant professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Vermont, has been honored with a prestigious Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA or R35) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). The five-year $1.9 million grant is intended to provide investigators with increased stability and flexibility, allowing ample opportunity for important breakthroughs. The funding will support Chatterjee’s work studying DNA damage and mutagenic repair responses. Dr. Chatterjee specializes in investigating mechanisms by which the translesion synthesis pathway that leads to genetic mutations can result in genome instability in cancer resistance and relapse and how this pathway can be therapeutically targeted. 

A cancer cell’s resistance to treatment is a major source of cancer burden, and genetic mutations are often to blame. Chatterjee studies REV1, the principal molecule in this mutagenic pathway, known to be responsible for causing harmful mutations. Still, recent work from her laboratory suggests that there may be other REV1 functions that collectively cause genome instability and cancer resistance. “We have uncovered novel arrays of REV1-dependent cellular functions leading to genome instability”, says Chatterjee. “Using basic and synthetic biology tools and REV1-based targeted therapy, we aim to delineate complex genome instability networks implicated in cancer etiology, therapy resistance, and other debilitating human diseases.” The R35 MIRA funding will help Dr. Chatterjee understand how REV1 engages in these novel broad arrays of cellular functions, with the ultimate hope of increasing our understanding of mechanisms that lead to cancer relapse and therapy resistance.

As a molecular biologist, Chatterjee’s research studies mutation-driving networks associated with genome instability. Her lab uses a combination of molecular, biochemical, and small molecule inhibitors and animal models to solve the complex intersection of the mutagenic translesion synthesis pathway with genome instability. Ultimately, this foundational work could lead to new treatments that help reduce the cancer burden and save lives. Her research on genome instability mechanisms has been featured in Chem Res Tox, Molecular Cell, Nature, and other news outlets. In addition to the R35 MIRA, she was also the recipient of the UVMCC and the VCIID pilot project grants and the UVM VP of Research award. Chatterjee obtained her Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine and was a post-doctoral associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before joining UVM in 2020. 

Chatterjee collaborates extensively across the University of Vermont campus, including with fellow cancer center members Eyal Amiel, Ph.D., Jason Stumpff, Ph.D., Julie Dragon, Ph.D., Ying Wai Lam, Ph.D., and Douglas Taatjes, Ph.D., and with researchers at other institutes, including Duke, Harvard, U Mass, and the University of Connecticut. Her work has been extensively supported by the University of Vermont Center for Biomedical Shared Resources