UNMC researchers awarded $10.6 million NIH grant

by Lisa Spellman, UNMC public affairs | October 24, 2008

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Alexander "Sasha" Kabanov, Ph.D.
UNMC received $10.6 million from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to research nanomedicine, drug delivery, therapeutics and diagnostics.

UNMC researcher Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., is the principal investigator on the $10.6 million COBRE (Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence) grant, which will be awarded by the NIH/NCRR over the next five years. Dr. Kabanov, the Parke-Davis Chair in Pharmaceutics, UNMC College of Pharmacy, is the director of the Nebraska Center for Nanomedicine, a part of the regent-approved Center for Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine at UNMC.

Nanomedicine defines the emerging area of science that uses nanomaterials, small polymeric particles to deliver drugs safely to disease sites, such as cancer tumors.

"This grant allows us to attract the best and brightest scientists to Nebraska, to develop novel technologies that could contribute to the economy of the state with the help of spin-off companies that would bring the results of the scientific research to public use," Dr. Kabanov said. "Altogether and most importantly, the research funded by this grant will one day provide drug therapies to physicians that target disease without harming healthy tissue and this will result in better clinical outcomes for patients."

UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., praised Dr. Kabanov and his team for their hard work in obtaining this very competitive grant designed to enhance the ability of young investigators to get their own federal funding.

"This grant will allow a number of UNMC junior investigators to form critical collaborations with senior researchers, giving them the tools they need to compete for dwindling federal grant dollars," Dr. Maurer said.

"The funding of Dr. Kabanov's proposal provides clear evidence of the national leadership that exists at UNMC in the field of nanomedicine," said Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., dean, UNMC College of Pharmacy. "This grant recognizes our collective expertise in advancing cutting edge research in nanomedicine, drug delivery, therapeutics and diagnostics and the promise this effort has to improve the treatment outcomes for patients."

COBRE is part of the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) network created by the NIH/NCRR to more equally distribute funding to states that have not traditionally received as much funding. The awards support multidisciplinary centers - each concentrating on one general area of research - that strengthen institutional biomedical research capability and enhance research infrastructure.

"By bridging the research funding gap in IDeA states, we are building innovative research teams, leveraging the power of shared resources, and enhancing the science and technology knowledge of the state's workforce," said NCRR Director Barbara M. Alving, M.D.

"UNMC has enjoyed extraordinary success in the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program of the National Center for Research Resources, and we are grateful for the efforts of the Nebraska Congressional delegation in working to help support the program," said Tom Rosenqust, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research at UNMC. "With this latest development, Dr. Kabanov has shown once again that he is a world-class scientist who can compete at the highest levels for this, unusually large - scale, research support. Congratulations to him and his team."

"This grant has finally reached the finish line of a very long race filled with many hurdles. From the beginning, UNMC had an exceptional grant application that was held up due to inadequate funding and hampered by across-the-board funding cuts from the White House last year," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. "Chancellor Maurer reminded me of the importance of this funding and I quickly began working to highlight the IDeA program in the Senate, holding two briefings and urging fellow appropriators to prioritize it.

"The research funded by this grant will one day provide drug therapies to physicians that target disease without harming healthy tissue and this will result in better clinical outcomes for patients."

Alexander "Sasha" Kabanov, Ph.D.

"I am glad the administration finally saw the light regarding UNMC's application. This funding will leverage the talent of UNMC researchers and help further develop and support their cutting-edge work."

The COBRE grant will support the research projects of four junior faculty, all of whom have been paired with an established faculty member, Dr. Kabanov said. The grant promotes collaboration among researchers with complementary backgrounds, skills and expertise.

"All four projects focus on how polymer nano systems may be used to enhance the delivery of drugs and improve treatment of cancer, neurodegenerative and central nervous system-associated cardiovascular disorders and inhibit tumor growth," Dr. Kabanov said.

The grant also will help establish the core facilities needed to carry out the objectives of the multidisciplinary collaborative program. The two core facilities being created out of this grant include one in bioimaging that will allow noninvasive diagnostics of neurodegenerative disease. The second core facility will focus on preparation of new nanomaterials and ensure that these materials are safe for human use.

The four projects currently being supported through the COBRE funding are as follows.


Project 1:

  • Principal investigator: Elena V. Batrakova, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Mentor: Howard Gendelman, M.D., chairman, department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, director, Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders.

Dr. Batrakova's project focuses on creating a drug delivery system to treat Parkinson's disease using nanozymes and immune cells in the brain as the delivery agent. Nanozymes are tiny particles consisting of an enzyme in a protective polymer coat.


Project 2:

  • Principal investigator: Matthew Zimmerman, Ph.D., assistant professor of cellular and integrative physiology.
  • Mentor: Irving Zucker, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the cellular and integrative physiology department.

Dr. Zimmerman's research project focuses on using antioxidant therapy and nanozymes to treat hypertension.


Project 3:

  • Principal investigator: Huanyu Dou, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience.
  • Mentor: Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Dr. Dou's research project focuses on developing a cell-based nanoformulated anti-tumor therapy that would improve biodistribution of the drug to the tumor and reduce chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity.


Project 4:

  • Principal investigator: Joseph Vetro, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine, department of pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Mentor: Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., director, Nebraska Center for Nanomedicine.

Dr. Vetro's research focuses on inhibiting the growth of cancer tumors by using specially developed nanocarrierse that disrupt the tumor's ability to recruit surrounding blood vessels.