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Indiana U medical researchers boost research and jobs with stimulus legislation grants
Date:9/15/2009

INDIANAPOLIS Indiana University School of Medicine scientists have received more than $12 million in grants funded by the federal economic stimulus legislation, funding that has bolstered both research initiatives and research employment on the medical center campus.

More than 40 researchers have received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awards ranging from a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant supporting innovative research on proteins to smaller awards enabling investigators to hire lab assistants for summer jobs. Approximately 75 research-related jobs have been created or saved on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus as a result of the grants to School of Medicine scientists. Other than the National Science Foundation award, all of the grants are from the National Institutes of Health.

The grants are supporting a broad range of research initiatives seeking to better understand and find improved treatments for a broad range of diseases, including Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and others.

Indiana University has created a web site www.stimulus.iu.edu to provide information about all federal grants the university has received through the economic stimulus legislation. As of Aug. 31, the university had received $16,980,925 through 57 projects

The $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant, awarded to A. Keith Dunker, Ph.D., T.K. Li Professor of Medical Research and director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics; Vladimir Uversky, Ph.D., senior research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Yuni Xia, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer and information science at the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI, will enable the researchers to expand a database of protein information used by scientists around the world.

The work by Dunker and his colleagues challenges the traditional view that proteins' three dimensional structures are key to determining their function. They have identified many proteins that perform crucial tasks without specific structures and in the process are opening new potential avenues to treat such diseases as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and others.

With a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health a team of scientists will investigate how the vaccinia virus, which is related to the smallpox virus, alters the function of immune cells to avoid being detected by the body's immune system. Vaccinia is the virus used to create vaccines against smallpox infection, and improving the vaccine capabilities of this virus will be useful in preventing smallpox infection as well as in the design of new vaccines against cancer and other infectious diseases. The research team includes Janice Blum, Ph.D., Chancellor's Professor and professor of microbiology and immunology, Randy Brutkiewicz, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, Mark Kaplan, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and David Wilkes, M.D., August M. Watanabe Professor of Medical Research, and professor of microbiology and immunology. The grant will create at least six new research positions and retain the jobs of three more.

"These awards not only are supporting science that will translate into better health and a stronger economy for Hoosiers, but are creating, and saving, many important laboratory research jobs," said D. Craig Brater, M.D., Walter J. Daly Professor and dean of the IU School of Medicine.

"The high level at which our scientists are conducting research is demonstrated by these awards, which will benefit people across Indiana and beyond," said Dr. Wilkes, executive associate dean for research affairs at the school of medicine.

Additional examples of the projects follow:

Fibromyalgia is the subject of a $237,000 award to Karmen Yoder, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology, who will be able to hire a new research assistant for the project. She will be using PET scanning techniques to evaluate dopamine a neurotransmitter known to be involved with cognition and implicated in pain in fibromyalgia patients, who complain of both severe pain and problems in thinking clearly.

"A lot of fibromyalgia patients are heavily medicated with addictive pain killers and they still don't get much relief," said Dr. Yoder. "If we understand the central mechanisms of pain in the brain, we can develop better therapeutic strategies for pain."

A $20,328 grant enabled Richard N. Day, Ph.D., professor of cellular and integrative physiology, to hire an undergraduate research assistant for this summer and next, which he said has speeded up his lab's research into mutations of a particular protein in the pituitary gland that blocks the production of important hormones, including growth hormone.

Laura Whitis, the IUPUI biology major working in the lab, said her goal is to do research and find effective treatments for genetic disorders.

A grant of nearly $419,000 will enable Reuben Kapur, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, to continue studying how vital cells in the bone marrow called hematopoietic stem cells renew themselves. These adult stem cells are responsible for the creation of all the body's red and white blood cells and are the key component in bone marrow and cord blood transplants used to treat leukemia, lymphomas and other diseases. In particular, Kapur and his team will evaluate a compound that could make it easier to grow the cells in the laboratory, which could improve the availability and effectiveness of the cord blood and bone marrow transplants.

Without the grant, Dr. Kapur said, it would have been necessary to reduce his laboratory staff by three full time positions, including two post-doctoral researchers and a laboratory technician.

Dr. Kaplan also received $385,000 to continue research in the body's immune system to better understand the genetic and cellular processes that produced inflammation in such diseases as Type 1 diabetes, arthritis and colitis. The grant, which continues work in an area Dr. Kaplan has been studying for 11 years, saved three jobs in his laboratory.

As part of the project, Dr. Kaplan and pediatric gastroenterologist Steven Steiner, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, will be studying children with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease to determine whether the presence of different forms of a particular protein STAT4 can be used to develop a blood test for those and other immune diseases.

Drs. Kaplan and Kapur are members of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research and the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Dr. Yoder is a member of Indiana Institute for Biomedical Imaging Sciences and the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute. Drs. Blum, Brutkiewicz, Kaplan and Wilkes are members of the Center for Immunobiology at the medical school.


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Contact: Eric Schoch
eschoch@iupui.edu
317-274-7722
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert

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