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August 09, 2010

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Jose Arguello, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been appointed to a four-year term on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study section to participate in the review and evaluation of research proposals aimed at understanding the nature of biological phenomena and applying that knowledge to enhance human health.

Beginning on July 1, Arguello became a member of the NIH Macromolecular Structure and Function (A) study section, joining a panel of leading scientists from around the United States who are experts in how metals such as copper, iron and zinc, which are essential to life, participate in biological processes.

"I am honored to be invited to serve on this study section and I look forward to working with my colleagues from around the country to help direct this important area of research," Professor Arguello said.

Based in Bethesda, Md., the NIH invests over $30 billion a year in research aimed at deepening the understanding of human biology and the processes of disease. Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH and is the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world.

NIH funds are granted primarily to scientists at leading universities, hospitals and research institutes. Study sections comprised of experts in the specific areas NIH funds evaluate grant applications, make recommendations on the applications to the appropriate NIH national advisory council or board, and survey the status of research in their respective fields.

"Professor Arguello's appointment to this NIH study section is a major honor and responsibility, reflecting his international scientific stature as well as the insights and professionalism necessary to help advance this important area of life sciences research," said WPI President Dennis Berkey.

In his research, Arguello studies the structure and function of proteins that transport heavy metals across cell membranes. Metals such as copper, zinc, cobalt, and iron are micronutrients that perform several fundamental functions in all living organisms. For example, when they are incorporated into cellular proteins, the metal molecules assist in maintaining structure and confer catalytic activity to proteins. They also participate in the transport of oxygen in the blood, the synthesis of sugars in plants, and the transcription of DNA. Metals also contribute to both the virulence of pathogenic microorganisms and the ability of a cell to resist infection by those organisms. Because of the importance of these basic biological functions, a better understanding of the mechanisms of heavy metal transport has implications for the treatment of a host of diseases, for human and animal nutrition, and for the bioremediation of heavy metal pollution.

"I have always been fascinated by biochemistry—the chemistry of life," Arguello said. "And these metals, which are typically found in inorganic environments, are essential for life. So understanding this intersection of inorganic and biological chemistry is something we focus on."

Over the next four years Arguello said he will be looking for research programs that have "great ideas" but also the demonstrated ability of a research team to conduct the work. "I believe that quality scientific research today needs to be innovative, yet also grounded in solid preliminary data," he said.

A member of the WPI faculty since 1996, Arguello received a degree in biological chemistry from the National University of Cordoba and a PhD in biological sciences from the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina. He completed postdoctoral work in the Department of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania and in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Cincinnati. He has received multiple research grants from the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) including a Research Development Award for Minority Faculty from the NIH. Arguello has published nearly 50 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. In 2009, he served as a program director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) at the NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences. Arguello and his family reside in Westborough, Mass.