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LSUHSC'S OCHOA 1 of 10 chosen by NIH director for Transformative Research Award

New Orleans, LA Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and Al Copeland/Cancer Crusaders Chair in Neuroendocrine Cancer at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has been selected as one of ten recipients nationally of the 2013 National Institutes of Health Transformative Research Award. Awarded by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, the award comes with a $2.5 million grant over five years to LSUHSC to support the development of new treatments for severe viral diseases, including herpes infections, pandemic influenza and cancers caused viruses, by manipulating how the immune system responds to severe viral and inflammatory infections.

According to the NIH, the NIH Director's Transformative Research Award initiative was created specifically to support exceptionally innovative, groundbreaking, high risk, original, and/or unconventional research projects that have the potential to create or overturn fundamental scientific paradigms. Funded by the NIH Common Fund, projects must clearly demonstrate potential to produce a major impact in a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research. The other recipients are from such places as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Dr. Ochoa is the only recipient in Louisiana.

Severe viral diseases, such as infections of the eye and brain caused by herpes viruses, influenza, and certain cancers, are caused by a combination of direct initial damage to the cells by the virus and damage from severe and chronic inflammation resulting from the body's fight against the infection. These diseases are difficult to treat and can cause long-lasting complications, disabilities, and sometimes even death.

Preliminary LSUHSC research on Herpes keratitis, a severe eye infection caused by herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) and the most frequent cause of blindness by a infectious agent in developed countries, shows great promise. The LSUHSC research team discovered that a substance produced by the immune system not only kills the virus, but also controls the damaging inflammation that accompanies this disease.

"It is important to find a treatment that can both kill the virus and control inflammation while allowing for the development of protective and long-lasting immunity," notes Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and Al Copeland/Cancer Crusaders Chair in Neuroendocrine Cancer at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans. "Our work suggests that simple and achievable metabolic changes can provide both of these effects and promote the healing of the tissues by altering the way the body responds to viral infections."

The grant will fund a research team including LSUHSC's Dr. Ochoa and Dr. Paulo Rodriguez, leaders in the field of immunology, chronic inflammation and immunotherapy, and Dr. James Hill and Dr. Timothy Foster, experts in ophthalmology and virology, as well as scientists with expertise in cancer immunotherapies and pulmonary infections from the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Tennessee.

Additionally, this award will create two new postdoctoral positions at LSUHSC and will support the training and mentorship of junior scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students.


Contact: Leslie Capo
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center

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