What started 10 years ago as a joint meeting between a few biology labs at the schools of Medicine and Arts and Sciences has blossomed into a multimillion dollar research program spanning both divisions.
"What makes it really unusual is that it's across two divisions," said Michael Edidin, a biology professor at Homewood, who heads up the research. "We have people in Arts and Sciences, and people in the School of Medicine, and we interact very strongly. It's been very fruitful."
Edidin is working with biologists Ann Hubbard and Carolyn Machamer, at the School of Medicine in East Baltimore, and Trina Schroer, in Arts and Sciences at Homewood.
"People come up here for some procedures; we go down there for some procedures. We publish papers together. There is a lot of vigorous traffic," Edidin said.
They call themselves the JCBs, for the Joined Cell Biologists; the moniker is an inside joke because the major scientific journal in their field is the Journal of Cell Biology, or the JCB.
The biologists first began meeting about a decade ago. "It started as a couple of labs having a joint meeting, and it just kept growing," Edidin said. "We really got to know each other's science well.
"About two or three years into those meetings, we decided to apply for a program project," he continued. "These are large multilab grants that are given for work in an area where each lab takes a project."
The four labs are running different but related projects tying into the overall research: work dealing with the study of epithelial cells, which cover body parts and line most of the inner cavities, such as the intestines and respiratory tract. They make up half of the cells in the body and account for 90 percent of all human cancers.
The program recently received renewed funding, a five-year grant for $4,956,313 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which began funding the program in 1992.
The research focuses on how molecules essential for certain biological functions travel within epithelial cells; the intracellular traffic is key because the opposite sides of epithelial cells are different, requiring specific proteins and lipids to travel to the proper locations.
"For example, in the intestines, the region or domain of the intestinal lining cell that faces the interior of the intestine is quite different biochemically and functionally from the other part," Edidin said. "Our program generally is to understand how particular molecules move through the cells so they end up in one domain or the other."
A side benefit of the program is that it has funded the creation of "core facilities," such as microscopy and tissue-culture labs. "Those are major resources that you would not get from an individual grant," Edidin said.