Alla Kostyukova, associate professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, has received a German Academic Exchange Service’s Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst fellowship.

The prestigious fellowship provides a stipend and travel allowance for her to conduct research at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology at the University Medical Center in Hamburg, Germany, starting in January.

Kostyukova is a leader in protein engineering research. She studies proteins that control dynamics of actin filaments, which play a critical role in muscle contraction, cell movement and cell morphology.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the researchers are studying actin-binding proteins in order to better understand breakdowns in cellular processes that lead to disease.

Working with the German researchers, Kostyukova will expand her research from the protein’s role in muscle to how they work in the brain and other nonmuscle cells. In particular, Kostyukova’s group is studying tropomodulin, a protein that is a key player in regulating actin and cell dynamics.

Researchers know the tropomodulin plays a key role in neuron growth and development, but they haven’t studied the mechanisms in how it functions. The work has important ramifications in understanding brain functions like learning and memory that are dependent on neuron formation and development.

“This new knowledge will add an important, yet overlooked, player in the set of actin-interacting proteins that are involved in neuron growth,” she said. “This work will be valuable for understanding cell morphology and migration not only in neurons but in many different types of cells.”

The fellowship will allow Kostyukova to bring back new microscopy techniques to WSU and to her collaborators in the U.S., as well as lead to new international, interdisciplinary collaborations.

With WSU since 2011, Kostyukova holds a master’s degree from St. Petersburg State University, Russia, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Institute of Protein Research at Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University.