Work on drug efficacy earns Montgomery early-career award

TaiMontgomeryRecentTai Montgomery wants to know how, and why, our bodies work against us.

The research conducted by Montgomery, assistant professor of biology, and his team addresses some of the smallest-scale – but most consequential – biological topics: genetics, bioinformatics and genomics. It’s research Montgomery says could help make existing drugs more effective at fighting diseases like cancer by better understanding small molecules called microRNAs. These “molecular switches” control a host of cellular processes involved in development and disease.

“The research has important implications for our understanding of how drugs and pathogens are recognized and detoxified by our cellular machinery,” says Montgomery, who has been on the CSU faculty since 2013.

Specifically, his team’s goal is to make existing treatments for cancer and infectious diseases work better by identifying ways to make diseased cells more susceptible to drugs, and to prevent cells from building up drug resistance.

Early-career recognition

For his perceptive work, Montgomery was recently named a 2015 Boettcher Investigator in the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards program – an honor bestowed on outstanding early-career scholars in the sciences by the Denver-based Boettcher Foundation. The award is among the nation’s most powerful programs for propelling researchers who are beginning their academic careers at prominent research institutions.

Montgomery will receive $225,000 in support of his ongoing work for up to three years beginning in July. He says he is extremely honored to receive the Boettcher Investigator award, and the funding will give his team more tools to use as they move their research forward.

But awards like these are crucial to emerging researchers like Montgomery for reasons beyond the dollar amount.

“As young investigators, we compete with more established researchers throughout the country for a limited pool of funds,” he says.

It’s a bit of a catch-22: Younger scholars have to demonstrate that they’re successful independent scientists in order to get funding, but they require funding in order to be as successful as they can. That’s the reason the Boettcher Investigator awards were created, according to Tim Schultz, president and executive director of the Boettcher Foundation.

“The 2015 class of Boettcher Investigators represents Colorado’s most promising early-career scientists,” he says. “We are proud to support their work to prevent disease and improve human health. We created the program to provide the critical funds emerging researchers need to grow their careers and open up promising new areas of inquiry.”

Class of 2015

Five other researchers join Montgomery as the newest Boettcher Investigators: James Costello, assistant professor of pharmacology; Santos J. Franco, assistant professor of pediatric stem cell biology; and Melanie Cree Green, M.D., instructor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and Aaron N. Johnson, assistant professor of integrative biology, and Erik B. Oleson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Denver. With the addition of the 2015 Class, there are now 35 Boettcher Investigators conducting research throughout the state.

CSU College of Natural Sciences Dean Jan Nerger sees the award as recognition of great promise.

“The Webb-Waring Institute and the Boettcher Foundation’s longstanding commitments to science in Colorado are exemplary, and we are proud to be able to use this support for such important research,” she says. “Dr. Montgomery is well-suited to continue this work, and we look forward to his output over the next three years and beyond.”