University of California, Merced biology professor Rudy Ortiz became the first UC Merced faculty member to win the National Institutes of Health's prestigious Independent Scientist Career Development Award.
The $414,720 grant will be paid over four years. The funding will allow Ortiz, who has been at UC Merced since 2005, to spend less time teaching and more time on research.
Ortiz’s research focuses on how elephant seals can go several months without eating, relying on fat reserves, and how they can experience sleep apnea without harming their health. Humans would last no longer than a month without food, and sleep apnea has the potential to kill.
Elephant seals, however, won’t even eat food placed in front of them while fasting.
“What if we could figure out that switch?” Ortiz asked. “Obese people could eliminate their carbohydrate intake and rely on their fat mass until they're lean and can return to a balanced diet.”
Ortiz’s team has been making groundbreaking discoveries, he said, but has yet to develop any medical applications.
This isn’t the first time the professor has been recognized by the NIH for his research; in 2009 he won a separate, five-year, $1.78 million research award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.