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Linder Receives Grant to Explore How the Trace Element Copper Finds Its Way to Newborns


From Dateline (May 20, 2004)

Maria Linder
Lawrence Gray, a junior majoring in biological science, greets his mentor, Maria Linder, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, during last monthís Minority Biomedical Research Support program symposium. Gray, whose research project explored how mice appear to have a different mechanism for transporting iron in the body, was a runner-up in the undergraduate biological and agricultural sciences category in the April 30 CSU Student Research Competition at Cal State Northridge. Linder recently received a grant to delve into how copper is transported in mammals from mothers to newborns.

Copper and other metallic elements are required in minute amounts by all biological organisms for health, growth and survival.

Usually in humans and most other mammals, traces of copper from food enter the blood stream and are transported to the liver, then distributed to other parts of the body as needed. The excess is excreted by the liver.

A notable exception to this occurs in mammals when nursing their young. At that time, copper is diverted from the liver to the females’ mammary glands, where it enters the milk newborns drink. Copper helps newborns survive and grow and may have other functions in the digestive tract.

This diversion phenomenon and related copper transport issues are the basis of research currently being conducted by Maria Linder, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her investigation is funded by a five-year National Institutes of Health grant of which first-year funding is $244,332.

“There are important nutritional implications to this research,” says Linder, who has taught on campus since 1977. “Our research is expected to reveal a lot about the basic transport processes involved in supporting the metabolic roles of copper in the body.”

Linder’s goal is to determine the processes within a cell that allow transfer of copper across membranes and through cell compartments to copper-binding proteins that then leave the cell and enter breast milk.

“I originally began to study copper because of its implications for cancer,” notes Linder, who received her doctorate in biochemistry from Harvard University, and conducted post-doctoral research at Harvard and MIT.

“We know that in cancer patients the amount of copper in the bloodstream goes up. Cancer cells are hungry for copper, but certain copper compounds also inhibit cancer growth,” she explains. “Understanding the normal roles and transport of copper will thus help us to understand this disease.”

Linder will be working with colleagues from Deakin University in Australia and students from both institutions. One CSUF student will go to Australia this summer, and Deakin may send one or more students to study with Linder.

The veteran researcher has received many awards for her work, including the American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution and the CSUF Outstanding Professor Award. Her research on copper and iron biochemistry has been published in professional journals and supported by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

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