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Funding boosts biomedical research at NDSU

Published November 1, 2012

When it comes to cancer, asthma, hypertension and arthritis, NDSU faculty, staff and students are fighting disease at the frontlines of basic biomedical research. Researchers across many departments at NDSU collaborate to advance such research and a $4.9 million, five-year grant award from the National Institutes of Health will assist in these efforts.

Researchers collaborating as part of NDSU’s Center for Protease Research work on new strategies for targeting protease or enzymes in disease. Led by Mukund Sibi, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the center has received $24 million in National Institutes of Health awards in the past 12 years.

A major scientific focus for the center is cancer. NDSU researchers are focusing on breast cancer, prevention of prostate cancer, the effect of nutrition and diet on cancer and on compounds that show promise in treating certain cancers. In addition, a partnership has been forged for future research opportunities with Sanford Research and Sanford Health, headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fargo.

“Understanding the biological role played by proteases, such as matrix metalloproteinases and histone deacetylases in cancer and other diseases such as asthma is extremely important. Our research represents an exciting and emerging target for cancer chemotherapy and treatment of autoimmune diseases,” Sibi said. The matrix metalloproteinases belong to a class of enzymes called proteases that degrade proteins by cutting them into small pieces. Too much or too little matrix metalloproteinase activity can contribute to diseases such as cancer. Controlling enzyme activity by using pharmaceuticals is seen as a potential strategy for treating the diseases.

Assistant professor Katie Reindl is focusing on how bioactive chemicals in foods can prevent the progression of various cancers. “We are interested in understanding the underlying mechanisms of how these food components influence cancer cell behavior, with the purpose of using these or similar agents for cancer therapy.”  Reindl initially became involved with the Center for Protease Research as a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences at NDSU. Since then, the center has provided support for her research as a faculty member in biological sciences, while enabling her to support additional graduate students in her research.

Another participant in the center is focusing on chronic complications of allergic asthma caused by fungus. “Recently, we have used insights gained with our work and are applying it to another problem. What happens when you have allergic asthma and are exposed to grain dust?” said Jane Schuh, associate professor in immunology and microbiological sciences. She notes the center’s research support, ability to bring together biomedical researchers from different disciplines, scientific collaboration, and mentoring by center scientists and external advisory board members, all contribute to advancement of research.

“The nationally significant biomedical research being conducted at NDSU illustrates the type of contributions our faculty and students make to the state and beyond,” said NDSU President Dean L. Bresciani.

“The Center for Protease Research’s contributions to help combat disease, as well as providing research opportunities across campus and the region, are significant,” said NDSU Provost J. Bruce Rafert. “These efforts, coupled with our research partnerships through the state-supported Center for Life Sciences Research and Applications, and the North Dakota Genomics Institute, constitute a commitment to life sciences research at NDSU.”

The Center for Protease Research at NDSU also supports science outreach efforts. Undergraduate students present posters on their scientific research at NDSU, including students from across the U.S. participating in the center’s summer research program. The competitive program brings outstanding students to NDSU for scientific research in state-of-the-art lab settings. Students from tribal colleges in North Dakota also participate in center-based research. Local high school students participate as part of the Parents’ Involvement in Children, Nurturing Intellectual Curiosity in Science program at NDSU. The center also brings nationally and internationally recognized scientists to NDSU.

Phase I of the program focused on developing research infrastructure and providing junior investigators with mentoring and funds to compete for research grants. Phase II of the program included five projects, 11 pilot projects and two core laboratory facilities. The Core Biology Facility at NDSU, established in 2003, is a molecular biology, tissue culture and bioassay laboratory with the scientific expertise to teach and train new users with techniques that may impact their science. The Core Synthesis Facility, established in 2008, is used to synthesize small molecules to assist in drug discovery and supply reagents for use in biological systems. The core synthesis facility is the only synthesis facility of its type in a large region of the central northern plains. These core laboratories serve Center of Biomedical Research Excellence investigators, as well as other investigators in and outside North Dakota.

An external advisory board of prominent U.S. scientists evaluates the program. It is anticipated by the end of Phase III, the self-sustaining core laboratories will support multiple disciplines, while strengthening biomedical research of the university and the state. Since 2001, researchers associated with the NDSU Center for Protease Research have published nearly 380 reports in scientific journals about their research.

NDSU investigators most recently participating in the Center for Protease Research include: Peggy Biga, Kendra Greenlee and Katie Reindl in biological sciences; Christopher Colbert, Gregory Cook, Glenn Dorsam, Stuart Haring, Svetlana Kilina, Guodong Liu, Erika Offerdahl, Mukund Sibi, Sangita Sinha and Pinjing Zhao in chemistry and biochemistry; Jodie Haring and Tao Wang in the Core Biology Facility; Bin Guo, Steven Qian and Chengwen Sun in pharmaceutical sciences; John McEvoy and Jane Schuh in microbiology and immunology; and Rajesh Murthy, Yonghua Yang and Ganesh Bala in the NDSU Core Synthesis Facility.

Research mentioned in this article is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award No. 5 P20 RR015566-10.


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Last Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 11:50:01 AM