[Skip to Content]

Grad Studies Student Awarded National Institute on Aging Grant

Grad Studies Student Awarded National Institute on Aging Grant

Liam Coyne, a fifth-year Upstate Medical University student in the MD/PhD program, has been awarded a four-year National Institute on Aging fellowship grant in the amount of $196,069. Coyne’s project grew in the Upstate lab of Xin Jie Chen, PhD, and studies how mitochondrial dysfunction may contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.

The fellowship will support Coyne’s research as well as his Upstate education and attendance at medical conferences to share his findings. The National Institute on Aging is a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Coyne has been studying mitochondria – the “powerhouse” of the cell – since he was an undergraduate student at Cornell University. At Upstate he has paired his interest with Chen’s important discovery that a disease-related cause by mitochondria dysfunction, called protein misfolding, can kill cells in a unique and unexpected way. Coyne’s future research will study that process’s connection to the development of neuromuscular degenerative diseases, all of which occur later in the life.

Making that connection could lead to treatments for several devastating and incurable diseases, Coyne said.

“It’s one small grain in a big beach,” he said. “We have an idea that happens in lower organisms and we have to pursue it to see if it contributes to disease.

“These diseases are devastating, there are no cures and very few treatments. And mitochondria are always messed up in these diseases; no one knows what’s going on.”

Coyne has been working on this project since 2014 and spent two months working on the grant application before it was submitted last December. The fellowship grant will propel the project’s research and Coyne’s career in medicine, Chen said. 

“It’s a remarkable achievement for a student for this stage in his career,” Chen said. “I felt very happy for him. It’s a good start for him to become a physician scientist in the future.”

As part of the fellowship, Coyne works with Upstate professor Burk Jubelt, MD, as part of his clinical training focused on neurology. Upstate professors Frank Middleton, PhD, and Paul Massa, PhD, are also collaborators on the grant, Coyne said.