Two UTHSCT researchers awarded one of just 19 NIH grants designed to spur development of new lung disease treatments

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two biomedical researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler have received an $870,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to help develop a new treatment for serious lung diseases.

UTHSCT Vice President for Research Steven Idell, MD, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Andrey Komissarov, Ph.D., are co-principal investigators of the grant. They are exploring how to use clot-busting drugs to prevent scarring around and inside the lungs.

The UTHSCT scientists are one of just 19 research teams around the nation to receive a CADET grant for lung disease research. CADET stands for Centers for Advanced Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics.

“CADET is a signature program. It is one of NIH’s first drug development initiatives, part of a broad strategy to develop new and better treatments for common diseases of the lungs. Our partners in this effort come from some of the best universities in the country,” said Dr. Idell, referring to the other CADET grant recipients.

Besides UTHSCT, institutions securing CADET grants include Johns Hopkins University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University, Duke University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan.

Dr. Idell, Dr. Komissarov, and their research team are focusing on one molecule – called PAI-1 – that is crucial to how the body dissolves blood clots. This targeted approach limits potentially harmful effects, such as bleeding, making the treatment safer and more effective, Dr. Idell said.

“Our drug, scuPA (pronounced “SCOO-pa”), which we’ve been working on since the mid-1990s, seems to be the best candidate for drug development. We hope to be conducting clinical trials with NIH support within the next two years,” he added.

It is estimated that out of every 5,000 chemicals considered to be drug candidates, only five will be judged safe enough to be tested on humans. And just one of these five will win approval from the Food and Drug Administration and then be marketed as a new drug.

Dr. Idell is optimistic about scuPA’s potential.

“We think it could be used to treat patients with scarring in the pleural space that surrounds the lungs. It may also work in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – that’s lung scarring that has no known cause,” he said.

Previous NIH grants have funded much of the research into scuPA, including an $8 million grant awarded to Dr. Idell and his team in 2005. This project has brought a total of about $14 million in research funds to East Texas, Dr. Idell said.

UTHSCT Instructor of Biochemistry Galina Florova, Ph.D., and Sophia Karandashova, M.S., also will work on the CADET grant, which will run through April 30, 2013. If research done by the UTHSCT scientists yields positive results, NIH could decide to provide another five years of financial support.

For more than 60 years, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. UTHSCT’s annual operating budget of $125 million represents a major economic impact of over $287 million to the Northeast Texas region. In FY 2010, scientists in the Center for Biomedical Research were awarded 75 competitive grants and contracts totaling more than $14 million. As the academic health science center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education program – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities throughout the region and beyond.

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