Cal State L.A., CSULA, Nancy McQueen, CSUPERB, Biotechnology Faculty Research Award

Notes to editors and news directors:
A photo of Professor McQueen and her students is available here:

Glendale's McQueen earns
key biotech research honor

CSUPERB cites Cal State L.A. professor's work
tracking virus mutations

Los Angeles, CA � You�d expect Cal State L.A. biology professor and Glendale resident Nancy McQueen to have an infectious smile, especially when it comes to talking about her Cal State L.A. students� role in her virus research.

Collaborating over nearly two decades with a string of roughly 60 (mostly graduate) students, McQueen has been precisely tracking the mutations in genes that alter the pathogenicity�or disease-causing strength�of Sendai virus, a rodent-infecting organism similar to the human influenza virus. Their work has led to numerous advances in understanding how mutated genes alter the molecular machinery behind the infection process.

It also prompted the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) recently to present McQueen its 2008 Biotechnology Faculty Research Award.

Each year, the award honors one professor from throughout the 23-campus CSU system for outstanding scientific achievement in molecular life science and biotechnology research. Last year it went to Cal State L.A.�s Frank Gomez. The honoring of McQueen marked the first time in the award�s 18-year history that it went to the same campus in consecutive years.

In her office McQueen hoisted the award�s trophy�a hefty gold-painted rotor from an ultracentrifuge�and credited her students. Among her former graduate students, 20 have continued on to Ph.D. programs, seven entered medical school, and one earned a dental degree. Currently her research team includes seven graduate students and a technician.

After earning a bachelor�s degree in microbiology from Cal Poly Pomona, McQueen worked as a licensed medical technologist. She received her doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the UCLA Medical School in 1986 and then trained at the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope.

Since joining Cal State L.A.�s faculty in 1989, she has received more than $1.3 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. She teaches a wide variety of courses including General Medical Microbiology, Pathogenic Bacteriology, Virology, Hematology, and Molecular Diagnostics.

More about the research:

Working with wild-type Sendai strains that cause localized respiratory tract infections in lab mice and a mutant strain that causes a systemic infection, the McQueen lab has been able to identify the genes critical for the mutant�s ability to cause a systemic infection.

To find out what is unique about the genes that trigger this systemic infection, they are now employing the �sexy technique� of reverse genetics, McQueen said.

�It means that you�re actually making viruses that have defined mutations in them,� she said.

As in any high-performance machine shop, precision in technique is necessary to yield precise results. �We know what change (in the DNA�s strand) will result in what amino acid (the building blocks of proteins)� and what protein will result when the virus is expressed.�

She and her students use another technique�called transfection�that inserts mutated DNA into tissue culture cells. �It�s a complicated process,� she said, �but eventually out of tissue culture, we�ve made a new virus.� Modern researchers used the same technique to reconstitute the Spanish influenza virus that claimed more than 20 million lives in a 1918 pandemic.

According to Sandra Sharp, also a biology professor at Cal State L.A., McQueen�s research has �the potential to increase our understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms of influenza virus and to find new applications for current antiviral treatments.�

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