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Gulf Coast Consortia Awards First Discovery Project Pilot Grants
Funds to support promising early-stage chemical genomics research
The John S. Dunn Gulf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics has awarded eight researchers in the Houston-Galveston area with its first Discovery Project Pilot Grants in recognition of their outstanding and innovative early-stage work in computational biology and chemistry, which is an increasingly essential step in more rapid drug discovery.
The awards - totaling $280,000 - are funded through a $2.7 million gift in 2006 from the Dunn Foundation to the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC), a collaborative alliance for interdisciplinary bioscience training and research. The GCC is composed of Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University, the University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
There were 40 applicants for the awards.
"The recipients of this first round of pilot grant awards represent a very talented and very diverse group of outstanding research scientists. We are excited about the prospect of bringing fresh eyes and a fresh perspective to the GCC's Chemical Genomics Consortium to help it develop as a valuable resource for all GCC researchers," said UT Health Science Center Executive Vice President for Research Peter J. A. Davies, M.D., Ph.D., who also is co-director of the GCC Chemical Genomics Consortium and on faculty at UT Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
David Gorenstein, Ph.D., associate dean of research and distinguished professor of biological sciences at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), said, "This is an exciting development for the GCC Chemical Genomics Consortium and indeed for all of the GCC. This is one of several research consortia of the GCC and demonstrates the commitment of our six institutions to share expensive equipment and resources."
The UT Health Science Center is the project's lead institution and will host the GCC's high throughput screening lab on a floor of the UT Medical School's new, $80.5-million, six-story research facility at 6431-A Fannin St. near John H. Freeman Boulevard in the heart of the Texas Medical Center.
"This central facility will provide a major resource for faculty who will first develop screens for a variety of applications in facilities provided by the Dunn GCC for Chemical Genomics at each institution. The first-round recipients were outstanding, and we are looking forward to seeing the exciting results from these seed funds," said Kathleen Matthews, Ph.D., chair of the GCC Oversight Committee and dean of Natural Sciences at Rice University.
Winners of the first Discovery Project Pilot Grants, which will help support the innovative, early-stage groundwork needed for developing biomedical treatments that will reverse or prevent diseases, are:
- Alan Brasier, M.D., and co-investigators Sanjeev Choudhary, Ph.D., and Thomas Wood, Ph.D., at UTMB, who are developing a new research avenue in their laboratories to identify, screen and test for oligonucleotide (aptamer) inhibitors of critical regulatory points in the cellular stress response pathways of transcription factor Nuclear factor-_B (NF-_B).
- Austin Cooney, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, for "Validation of a HTP ligand screen for the orphan receptor GCNF and characterization of ligands."
- Michael Davies, M.D., Ph.D., at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, whose research is focused on developing an improved understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of metastatic melanoma and identifying new therapeutic approaches for this disease. Davies has developed a model for chemotherapy resistance using human melanoma cell lines. He will perform an siRNA screen to provide insight into mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in melanoma.
- David S. Loose, Ph.D., and co-investigator Claudio N. Cavasotto, Ph.D., at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, who are searching for chemicals that could either mimic one of at least 18 hormone- like small-molecule signals or block receptors in the "wnt" signaling pathway, which is involved in many aspects of normal growth, differentiation, and tissue remodeling. Dysfunction of this pathway is known to contribute to formation of many cancers, especially colon and breast cancer. "The John S. Dunn award will allow us to actually apply our research strategy and begin to search for these chemicals," said Loose. "We are confident that the screening funded by the Dunn Award will discover molecules that can change signals in the wnt pathway and provide us candidates we hope to develop into useful agents for treating numerous human diseases." Loose and Cavasotto both are GSBS faculty.
- Jianpeng Ma, Ph.D., at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University, and co-investigator Qinghua Wang, Ph.D., at Baylor College of Medicine, whose project is "High-throughput Screening for Anti-influenza Inhibitors." New antiviral drugs are needed to help protect against impending pandemics and seasonal epidemics, and this project proposes identification of promising lead molecules for development of high-potency antiviral drugs.
- Amarnath Natarajan, Ph.D., and co-investigator Kathryn A. Cunningham, Ph.D., at UTMB, who propose to investigate new approaches for therapeutic treatment of mental health disorders by identifying and characterizing hot-spots in protein- protein interactions in the serotonergic system, a primary system implicated in underlying psychiatric disorders.
- David Tweardy, M.D., and Michael Mancini, Ph.D., at Baylor College of Medicine, for "Chemical probes selective for Stat3 alpha," which is a target for cancer therapeutic agents.
- John Wilson, Ph.D., at Baylor College of Medicine, working on "Chemical Screen for Modulators of Triplet Repeat Instability." By identifying individual proteins and the molecular pathways they define, his project will help identify lead compounds for the development of preventive and therapeutic approaches for treating a host of devastating human diseases.
GCC Chemical Genomics Consortium Co-Director Michael Mancini, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine said: "The Discovery Project Pilot Grant Program and the associated generous support we received from the Dunn Foundation is part of a larger effort to promote chemical genomics and drug discovery research at Gulf Coast Consortia institutions. The goal of this program is to enable research teams from the GCC institutions to apply the technologies of high throughput and high content screening to their individual areas of research interest."
John S. Dunn GCC for Chemical Genomics was organized in 2003 to address the growing need among Gulf Coast investigators for a centralized capability to support high-throughput screening technologies. This research consortium brings together scientists interested in this area of research, with goals being to develop a basic research arm and translational research arm to develop new leads for therapeutics.
The Dunn Foundation provides $500,000 in seed funding grants to support innovative, early stage pilot projects, particularly from young investigators, that will enable them to gather the preliminary data required for successful applications for peer-reviewed funding and publication.
For more information about the John S. Dunn Gulf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics, see: http://cohesion.rice.edu/centersandinst/gcc/gccddr_about.cfm.
By David R. Bates for Institutional Advancement
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