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Solid Science and Persistence Pay Off in the Pursuit of Grant Funding

Dr. Margulies and undergraduate student Samantha Semenkow, in his lab.
Dr. Margulies and undergraduate student Samantha Semenkow, in his lab.

Towson, Md. (September 28, 2011): “Keep applying. There’s something to be said for tenacity.” This is but one of the tips Barry Margulies of the Department of Biological Sciences offers faculty members preparing proposals for external funding agencies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently funded Margulies’ proposal for the project “Long-Term Herpes Simplex Virus-1 Suppression by Continuous Acyclovir Delivery in the amount of $348,319 for a three year period beginning September 5. Funding will allow Margulies and his team the opportunity to continue their work on subcutaneous delivery of acyclovir for long-term suppression of reactivating herpes infections.

Margulies’ work will make it possible for patients to take a lower daily dose of the drug and works on the “fire and forget” principal. The drug is implanted under the skin once and the patient can then forget about it for five years, at which time the implant biodegrades and is replaced. This eliminates the need for patient compliance with a dosing regimen, thus preventing a recurrence of the virus and minimizing chances for mutations and resistance.

This work is important not only in advancing the science and solving a real-world problem, but also in that it has allowed – and will continue to allow – students to work on research as undergraduates.  Margulies is proud of the students who had the opportunity to work on the project and sees them as part of a family.  Not only were they invaluable as part of the research team, but they also learned a great deal about teamwork and scientific progress. Many have gone on to Ph.D., M.D., and D.V.M. programs. Some students have already finished their formal education and are in the field practicing. Margulies feels that their experience in working together as a team here at Towson has helped advance their careers.  They know how to give due credit to others. “The importance of the University making so many undergraduate research opportunities available can’t be minimized.  It changes the courses of students’ careers” he stated. “They make the job not only fulfilling but also fun.”

Margulies has filed a patent application for the drug delivery system.  “Protecting intellectual property is so important,” he notes.  “Basic science can turn into applied science.” He encourages faculty members to disclose their scientific discoveries to the university and to consider seeking patent protection for them. This preserves the university’s and the inventor’s rights to the invention, ensuring that it will be used as intended – that the science does not “sit on a shelf” but instead benefits the public.

Margulies’ work was initially funded “on a shoestring” through internal sources, while he actively pursued external funding. The NIH proposal for the project was funded on resubmission. After the agency initially declined to fund the proposal, Margulies had lengthy conversations with the program officer about the scientific content, about the way the science was presented, and about the study section that reviewed the proposal. The program officer told him that the science was strong and gave him tips for resubmitting, should the proposal miss the funding “pay line,” or cut off point. “Program officers have invaluable advice to offer.  Faculty members planning proposals shouldn’t even consider submitting without first having a conversation with the program officer.” His final advice? “Fit with the funder’s mission and fit with the other projects in the research portfolio is critical. Get the proposal into the right hands – with NIH proposals, you can recommend a study section to review your proposal. Take advantage of that opportunity – it can make all the difference.”

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