Three UTHSCT scientists awarded $616,830 in competitive grants to support their research into cancer, ARDS, and TB

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler recently were awarded a total of $616,830 in competitive grants. Their research projects could lead to new treatments for diseases such as cancer, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and tuberculosis.

Hua Tang, Ph.D., an associate professor of biochemistry, received a two-year, $382,830 grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how capillaries – tiny, one-cell-thick blood vessels – form from pre-existing blood vessels.

This process is called angiogenesis and is essential in helping tumors grow and spread. Angiogenesis also has been linked to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries that causes cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Tang is studying the role of a natural chemical in the body called protein kinase D2 (PKD2) in regulating the growth of these tiny blood vessels. The idea is that understanding how PKD2 controls blood vessels’ growth can lead to better treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Jian Fu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biochemistry, received a two-year, $140,000 grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to examine a specific type of lung injury. He is exploring how a protein called Sirt1 tells lung cells injured by sepsis – a severe illness in which the bloodstream is overwhelmed by a bacterial infection – to die.

Each year about 750,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with sepsis, and it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Many people who get sepsis die from ARDS, which prevents oxygen from getting into the blood and thus to the body’s cells. By analyzing the role Sirt1 plays in lung injury caused by ARDs, Dr. Fu’s research could lead to better ways to prevent and treat this deadly disease, which strikes about 150,000 Americans annually.

Hema Kothari, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate, received a two-year, $94,000 grant from the AHA to investigate the role of a protein called tissue factor in the development of tuberculosis.

Proteins are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s cells, tissues, and organs; each protein has unique functions. Hormones, enzymes, and antibodies are all examples of proteins.

Tissue factor is the protein that begins the blood-clotting process. People infected with TB sometimes develop blood clots. The purpose of Dr. Kothari’s research is to determine if tissue factor is involved in limiting the spread of TB bacteria or if it helps TB bacteria survive in the body.

Understanding the relationship between tissue factor and TB could lead to new treatments for this infectious disease, which kills almost 2 million people throughout the world each year.

In fiscal year 2010, UTHSCT scientists were awarded $14.2 million in research dollars to support their world-class programs investigating lung disease, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, and aging. The NIH provided $6.4 million of those funds.

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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