UTHCT Research Council awards three grants to fund the study of the aging process, as well as new ways to deliver drugs

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Three seed grants totaling $28,100 have been awarded to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. The locally raised money will be used to help UTHSCT scientists in their research to find cures for serious diseases, said Steven Idell, MD, Ph.D., UTHSCT’s vice president for research.

The funds will support research into how certain biological processes contribute to aging, as well as investigating whether RNA molecules could be used to build synthetic scaffolds to aid drug delivery. The three scientists receiving grants are Dong-Ming Su, Ph.D.; Hua Tang, Ph.D.; and Christian Zwieb, Ph.D. A committee composed of UTHSCT Research Council community members awarded the grants.

These small grants, awarded annually, help junior researchers begin new studies in their fields of interest. The results of their preliminary research can then be used to support larger grant proposals submitted to state and federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.

The Research Council was founded in 1995 by a group of community members interested in helping research at UTHSCT, said Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., director of research at UTHSCT.

“The first grants were awarded in 1996. Since then, a total of $189,123 has been raised and distributed to UTHSCT faculty in 35 separate grants,” Dr. Atkinson said.

Though small, these seed grants can lead to significant achievements in biomedical research, he said.

“The potential of these small awards to improve the health of people throughout the United States cannot be overemphasized. They ultimately have a positive financial impact on the economy of Tyler and Smith County,” Dr. Atkinson said.

Dr. Su, an assistant professor of biochemistry, was awarded $10,000 for his work, entitled “Evaluation of Aged Hematopoietic Stem Cells Ability to Make Naïve T Cells in Vivo.” Dr. Su is investigating how the thymus gland ages and what can be done to stop or slow that aging process. This gland, located near the heart, is a crucial part of the body’s immune system; it produces mature T cells, which are one of the immune system’s major forces. Dr. Su’s research may lead to therapies designed to rejuvenate an aging and less effective immune system. In addition, his research could result in ways to restore an immune system damaged by infectious diseases or by side effects of medical treatments.

Dr. Tang, an assistant professor of biochemistry, received $9,000 for his proposal, “Hydrogen Peroxide - a Potent Inhibitor of Inflammation.” He is exploring whether nontoxic concentrations of hydrogen peroxide inside cells or tissues restrict inflammation. If so, it could represent a pivotal way that hydrogen peroxide, a reactive oxygen species, hinders inflammation linked to aging. In the future, therapies based on results of his research might be used to slow the aging process and some of the diseases linked to it.

Finally, Dr. Zwieb, a professor of molecular biology, was awarded $9,100 for his work, entitled “Synthesis of RNA-based Hydrogels.” The idea is to build networks of hydrogels - substances made up of long chains of molecules, some of which are attracted to water. If feasible, these networks could be used to develop better ways to deliver drugs, biologically engineer cells and tissues, and create safer gels.

“UTHSCT scientists have had a number of notable successes during the 10 years the seed grants have been awarded. Three investigators have used preliminary results from these small grants to obtain more than $2 million of NIH funding,” Dr. Atkinson said.

“Three grants resulted in a successful patent application for a new treatment for melanoma. Another led to a patent for a molecule designed to sensitize breast cancer cells to chemotherapy,” he said. When scientists receive patents on their research, it represents a major step toward developing new drugs.

Dr. Idell said, “The three recipients are to be congratulated, because these projects address important areas of basic research. They developed solid proposals that will generate new perspectives about these problems.”

The Research Council was established to provide unrestricted funds to supplement research projects, purchase special equipment, or provide scholarships in an effort to enhance the significant research being conducted at the Health Center. The grant recipients will be recognized at the 11th Annual Allen B. Cohen Memorial Research Lecture on April 11.

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