University of Vermont

University Communications

Nelson Receives MERIT Award in Recognition of Scientific Excellence

Release Date: 07-01-2008

Author: Jennifer Nachbur
Phone: 802/656-7875 Fax: 802-656-3961

Mark Nelson, Ph.D., professor and chair of pharmacology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, has received a prestigious MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The ten-year, $3.39 million grant provides continued funding for Nelson's research on urinary disorders, such as overactive bladder and incontinence, as well as for additional investigation on the underlying causes and potential therapies for erectile dysfunction.

This MERIT award, which recognizes Nelson's superior grant performance, research competence and productivity throughout his career, will provide 10 years of continued funding support without the typical competitive review required by most grants. This program is intended to foster continued creativity and reduce the administrative burdens associated with the preparation and submission of research grant applications.

Despite the prevalence of overactive bladder and associated symptoms of urinary incontinence, which afflicts roughly 17 percent of the population in Europe and the United States, therapeutic solutions are limited. In earlier research, Nelson and his colleagues identified a protein central to urinary bladder activity. They also discovered that targeted disruption of this protein's gene leads to urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, ataxia (loss of muscle control) and high blood pressure.

A regular contributor to such prestigious journals as Nature, Science and Nature Neuroscience, Nelson and his colleagues' main goal is to understand the control of smooth muscle cell function by the cell membrane. In particular, his group focuses on the calcium and potassium channels, which are central to the function of all cells, and the sites of action of a number of drug types that are used to treat a variety of disorders. The goals of the MERIT award research are to understand urinary bladder and blood vessel function, how this changes in disease, and to develop novel therapeutic strategies.

Several members of the UVM College of Medicine faculty have been honored with MERIT awards over the years. Included among this prestigious group are Paula Fives-Taylor, Ph.D., professor emerita of microbiology and molecular genetics (1994); Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry (2001); Kenneth Mann, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and medicine (1989); and Susan Wallace, Ph.D., professor and chair of microbiology and molecular genetics (1995).