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Pitt Team Gets Federal Grant Renewal to Develop Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation Exposure

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 23, 2010 – Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have been awarded $13.9 million over five years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue developing small molecule radiation protectors and mitigators that can be easily accessed and administered in the event of a large-scale radiological or nuclear emergency.

In 2005, NIAID’s Center for Countermeasures Against Radiation  program granted $10 million over five years to Joel Greenberger, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Pitt, and his team of researchers with the university’s Center for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation.

“With our previous funding, we dedicated our time to exploring the mitochondria―the energy generator of all cells―and developing drugs that could counteract damage caused by radiation exposure,” said Dr. Greenberger. “We proved that targeting small molecules to the mitochondria was a successful approach. With our current funding, we hope to accomplish a variety of goals, including gene identification for targeted therapies, finding a new approach to the development of radiation mitigators and developing strategies to deliver the drugs quickly and intelligently to block mitochondria ‘wrong-doings’ that could lead to massive cell death after a nuclear event.”

Previous funding supported research examining several potent mitigators of radiation damage, including new classes of chemicals and known natural compounds. Dr. Greenberger’s team, in conjunction with a team of chemists led by Peter Wipf, Ph.D., distinguished professor of chemistry with the University of Pittsburgh, aided in the development of JP4-039, a drug that assists the mitochondria in combating irradiation-induced cell death.

In addition, according to research from Dr. Greenberger’s laboratory, resveratrol, the natural antioxidant commonly found in red wine and many plants, proved to protect cells in mouse models from radiation when altered by a process called acetylation.

“Our work is truly a multidisciplinary effort in which the combined expertise and knowledge of biochemists, clinical researchers, chemists, pharmacologists and pharmacists led to the successful development of novel protectors and mitigators against irradiation damage,” said Dr. Greenberger.

Co-principal investigators include Valerian Kagan, Ph.D., John Lazo, Ph.D., Hulya Bayir, M.D., Peter Wipf, Ph.D., Detcho Stoyanovsky, Ph.D., Song Li, Ph.D., Xiang Gao, Ph.D., Paul Floreancing, Ph.D., Alexander Star, Ph.D., Oleskandr Kapralov, Ph.D., Hong Wang, Ph.D., and Michael Epperly, Ph.D., all with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

About UPCI

As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community-based outreach services. UPCI investigators are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to NIH data for 2008 (the most recent year for which the data are final).

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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