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August 28, 2003

Calvin Gets Biggest NSF Grant

Calvin College has received its largest National Science Foundation grant ever to buy a piece of equipment rarely seen on undergraduate campuses.

The school was given $224,934 by the NSF to purchase a flow cytometer, a specialized instrument usually found in hospitals, research labs and large, graduate-level universities. In fact, in Grand Rapids there are currently flow cytometers at just three locations, including Spectrum Hospital, the VanAndel Rsearch Institute and the Grand Rapids Blood Bank.

Calvin has just installed its BD Biosciences FACSCalibur flow cytometer in its John "Doc" DeVries Hall of Science - right in time for the start of classes on September 8.

Professors are excited about the possibilities of the flow cytometer for their own research and for its applications to undergraduate science courses at Calvin.

Says Calvin biology professor David DeHeer (above): "The flow cytometer will significantly enrich the research training of undergraduate students, benefiting in particular, upper-level students in cell and molecular biology. The instrument will play a strategic role in preparing our students for graduate education and laboratory research, a key step in equipping young people to provide vital contributions to the scientific and engineering communities."

A flow cytometer is a sophisticated instrument for detecting and measuring specific molecules, including DNA, in individual living cells. For example, researchers use the instrument to identify malignant cells, cells that express specific genes and thereby exhibit abnormal functions, or cells that cause specific diseases such as leukemia. Not only can a flow cytometer analyze thousands of cells each second, but it can also separate them into groups with specific functions or discrete genetic markers. These populations then can be cloned and further studied in the laboratory.

Calvin's new flow cytometer is about as large as a household dishwasher, but, says DeHeer with a smile: "considerably more expensive." And it's a complicated piece of equipment. It won't work without a computer which is required to collect and analyze the hundreds of thousands of measurements the flow cytometer makes each second. Just to learn to use the flow cytometer will require DeHeer and others in the Calvin biology department to each complete a one-week training course.

DeHeer plans to use the flow cytometer to explore ways to eliminate or quiet inflammatory cells involved in the failure of artificial joints such as those of the hip and knee. Biology professor John Ubels will examine gene expression in lacrimal gland cells, cells whose normal function helps to prevent dry eye disease. Arlene Hoogewerf will seek to identify processes by which certain bacteria are able to evade an organism’s defense mechanisms and cause infection. Stephen Matheson will examine the ability of certain molecules to stimulate nerve cell growth and maturation, processes that could enable injured nerve cells to heal or reproduce. And Elizabeth Howell will identify factors that direct a cell to copy its DNA or to repair damaged DNA.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)