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NIH Renews Pitt Grant for $18M to Continue Studies into Mitigating Effects of Radiation

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9/2/2015

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Pitt’s School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health have received a five-year, $18 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue work developing drugs that could provide protection from radiation in emergencies such as  terrorism or reactor meltdowns.

This is the third renewal of the grant for Joel S. 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 (CMCR). It is one of only four such grants awarded by the NIAID in the U.S.

In its first 10 years, the CMCR has developed and patented two drugs to mitigate the effects of radiation on the body. In this next phase of study, researchers will be looking at ways to administer these drugs individually or in combination using microneedle arrays. Also, they will be working to develop new drugs based on the innovative concept of radiation triggered disease rather than acute injury. New research will explore the molecular mechanisms through which radiation disease affects normal cells, including stem cells of the intestine and bone marrow. The frontier “omics” approaches, including oxidative lipidomics, will be employed for finding the optimal therapy regimens.

“Patients suffering from radiation disease may be too sick to take an oral therapy and delivering drugs intravenously would be too impractical and costly. We need a safe and effective way to make sure these drugs are given appropriately,” Dr. Greenberger said.

The CMCR consists of four projects and six cores led by a multidisciplinary group of researchers representing Pitt’s School of Medicine and the departments of Critical Care Medicine, Computational Biology, Radiation Oncology, Dermatology and the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health.

The project leaders are Valerian Kagan, Ph.D.; Hülya Bayır, M.D.; and Jian Yu, Ph.D. The cores are directed by Michael Epperly, Ph.D.; Simon Watkins, Ph.D.; Peter Wipf, Ph.D., Ivet Bahar, Ph.D.; Yulia Tyurina, Ph.D.; Detcho Stoyanovsky, Ph.D., and Hong Wang, Ph.D.

Dr. Greenberger said the work of the group has gone beyond just preparing for a large-scale emergency. Some of the drugs they have developed can be used to mitigate the effects of radiation for some head and neck cancer patients.

The award is funded through the National Institutes of Health grant number 2U19AI068021-11.