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Helen Turner, PhD, researcher at The Queen's Center for Biomedical Research, recently won a Rockefeller Brothers Fund grant to study the way physical stimuli affect mast cells, which initiate inflammation, healing and allergic reactions of the skin.

Based in New York, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund provides grants for a wide range of causes. A few years ago, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation became a part of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund through a merger. Culpeper, now administered by Rockefeller, awards grants targeting a variety of human advancement causes all over the world. Dr. Turner applied in a health category called the Biomedical Pilot Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to fund novel hypotheses in biomedical research, and provides a one-time grant of $25,000. Only about five grants per year are awarded in this category worldwide. Dr. Turner hopes to generate enough data to win larger grants from institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The research will look at how physical stimuli like heat and cold affect mast cells, and will examine both the immunological and physical ways in which the cells are activated. Large granules in mast cells are what initiate inflammation, healing and the fighting of parasites, as well as allergic reactions. "What's interesting about mast cells," said Dr. Turner, "is that they are on a hair trigger." An allergic reaction means that mast cells are releasing the granules inappropriately. On the other hand, if they don't respond, infections would become uncontrolled.

Dr. Turner is particularly interested in burns because of mast cells' role in inflammation and the rebuilding of skin. "If we can understand this process," said Dr. Turner, "there may be huge implications for health care."

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