School of Medicine Faculty Member, Collaborator Receive $2.6 Million from NIH, Additional Support for Disease Research


SAVANNAH – Jinping (Jennifer) Li, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of histology at Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM), and Gang (Gary) Ren, Ph.D., structural biologist at the Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), U.S. Department of Energy, recently were awarded more than $2.6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health for a collaborative project to define a novel mechanism underlying blood cholesterol regulation.

A joint proposal, titled “Structure-Function Relationship Studies of the Plasma Lipid Transfer Proteins CETP and PLTP,” received funding from the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH/NHLBI) through the NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01).  

The study will delineate the mechanism of blood cholesterol transfer proteins in regulating lipoprotein structural and morphology changes, which will be essentially important to design the next generation of drugs for fighting cardiovascular and familial hypercholesterolemia diseases.

As co-investigator, Dr. Li's portion of the grant amounts to $450,000 over the next four years.

Additionally, a proposal for fighting cancer diseases led by Dr. Li and Dr. Ren was approved by the Molecular Foundry's User Program, which provides researchers free access to world-class instruments for cutting-edge nanoscience and biological materials in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment.

Dr. Li's research over the past decade has focused on the pathological mechanism, diagnosis and treatment of endometrial and pancreatic cancers. Preliminary results of the recent cancer-related projects led by Dr. Li and Dr. Ren at the Molecular Foundry strongly support future NIH grant application.

Dr. Li also was selected as a board member of the User Program Review Committee. She is the first scientist from the state of Georgia to serve the Molecular Foundry in this role. Her selection will allow for other faculty members and students at MUSM to access world-class instruments and network with some of the world's leading scientists who are also involved in the User Program system.

Since Dr. Li joined MUSM's Department of Biomedical Sciences on the Savannah campus in 2010, she has published 36 peer-reviewed research papers and has been awarded grants totaling more than $618,000 from the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute (NIH/NCI), M.D. Anderson Uterine Cancer SPORE Program Career Development Award, Mercer University Seed Grant Program and Memorial Health University Anderson Cancer Institute Pancreatic Cancer Research Program.

Prior to serving on the faculty at Mercer, she completed postdoctoral training at both Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic after obtaining her Ph.D. at Beijing University Medical Center.

About the Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University's School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School's primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master's degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences.