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this article.
Universit y of Nebr ask a Medical Center
Breakthroughs for life.
discover
UNMC
UNMC’s
AIDS A-Team
FALL
2011
discover
UNMC
Fall
2011
On the cover:
Scientists who have investigated the AIDS
virus for 30 years, now work together at
UNMC. From left, Howard Gendelman, M.D.;
Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D.; Susan Swindells,
M.B.B.S., and Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D.
10
LOSING WEIGHT ONLINE
IN RURAL NEBRASKA
A web-based intervention for weight loss
and weight maintenance is designed to help
women in rural Nebraska be successful.
5
UNMC’S AIDS A-TEAM
Four world-class researchers and a
patient team up at UNMC to develop
breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS treatment.
Follow us:
facebook.com/unmcedu
twitter.com/unmc
youtube.com/unmcedu
Contents:
14
17
12
DNA – THE PRIMARY FRONTIER
CAN YOU TRANSLATE?
Voyage into the building blocks of life to sequence
large amounts of DNA and unravel the mysteries
of cancer, heritable diseases, infectious diseases
and autism.
Changes in health care will occur more
rapidly and reliably when teams of
research translators work together to tackle
major health problems.
4
VOICES IN THE PLAZA
WORK TO IMPROVE
RESEARCH, HEALTH
Fresh solutions to health problems in the
South Omaha community can be found
through a partnership between UNMC
and more than 90 agencies.
Vice Chancellor message
20 UNMC News
23 UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
18
THE EYES HAVE IT
innovation
web
extra
Rods and cones in the eyes help you read
these words, but understanding how they
transmit signals may lead to the cause of
neurodegenerative diseases.
unmc.edu/discover
3
UNMC discover
The need for
translational research
T
he office of Vice Chancellor for
Research has experienced some
changes. Dr. Chris Kratochvil, assistant
vice chancellor for clinical research, Dr. Ken
Bayles, associate vice chancellor for basic
science research, and I work toward a common
goal: the expansion of translational research.
To translate research you need teams of
investigators with different backgrounds and
skills all focused on a particular problem
or disease.
Often, the research begins in a laboratory,
with cells or animals, to understand the cause,
or identify new markers of disease. Animal
models also can be useful to develop and test
prevention or treatment strategies.
But, ultimately, successful translational
research needs to be confirmed in human
trials. Even when the clinical trial is successful,
the research doesn’t stop.
Translating those results into a
community-setting also may require research.
In this issue, we give examples of basic,
clinical and community-based research
underway at UNMC.
Translational research often requires new
technology. For example, genetics is now being
used to target therapies to the individual —
often called “personalized medicine.”
We know that not every person benefits
from every medicine equally. ‘Next generation’
genetic sequencing, now available at UNMC,
can more rapidly identify the genes that predict
the response of individuals. This technology also
allows scientists to rapidly sequence DNA in
cancers, or families with the same condition, to
find new causes or targets for treatment.
Another exciting technology is
nanomedicine — creating new formulations of
medications using very small particles so it can
move across the skin or into the brain more
easily or prevent drug resistance over time.
Translating research into the community
also involves technology. Dr. Carol Pullen, with
other College of Nursing faculty, use technology
to conduct studies in rural communities to
improve health. These same technologies are
being introduced to support the delivery of
health care in rural areas.
Finally, I am excited to report that UNMC
continues to attract top scientists from across
the country and grow research programs
that are recognized around the world. In this
and future issues of UNMC Discover, we will
highlight some of UNMC’s research teams
that directly benefit the health of Nebraska, as
well as change science and health care around
the world.
Jennifer Larsen, M.D.
UNMC Vice Chancellor for Research
UNMC Discover is published twice a year by the
Vice Chancellor for Research and the Department
of Public Relations at the University of Nebraska
Medical Center. The magazine is supported by
the UNMC Chancellor.
Issues of the magazine can be found at
www.unmc.edu/discover. Permission is granted
to reprint any written materials herein, provided
proper credit is given. Direct all requests to
[email protected] Subscriptions to UNMC
Discover are free. For a printed or email
subscription, go to unmc.edu/discover.
UNMC’s mission is to improve the health
of Nebraska through premier educational
programs, innovative research, the highest
quality patient care and outreach to underserved
populations.
UNMC is accredited by The Higher Learning
Commission of the North Central Association
of Colleges and Schools (HLC-NCA) and enjoys
full accreditation of all its professional academic
programs.
UNMC does not discriminate in its academic,
employment or admissions programs and abides
by all federal regulations pertaining to same.
Because our mailing list comes from multiple
databases, some readers may receive duplicate
copies. Please share extra copies with someone
else, or send us the address panels from all
the copies you receive and we will be glad to
eliminate the duplication. Send to: UNMC Public
Relations, 985230 Nebraska Medical Center,
Omaha, NE 68198-5230, or call 402.559.4353.
Director of Public Relations:
Bill O’Neill
Senior Associate Director:
Tom O’Connor
Associate Director of Publications:
Karen Burbach
Publications Editor:
Elizabeth Kumru
Design:
DAAKE
Photography:
David Hussey
Malone & Company
Brandon McKenna
Cole Eberle
Scott Dobry
Elizabeth Kumru
Research Advisory Board:
Jennifer Larsen, M.D. • Kenneth Cowan, M.D., Ph.D.
Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D. • Bradley Britigan, M.D.
Robert Lewis, Ph.D. • Michael Dixon, Ph.D.
Ayman El-Mohandes, M.B.B.Ch., M.D., M.P.H.
Jeffrey Payne, D.D.S. • John Reinhardt, D.D.S.
Warren Sanger, Ph.D. • Joe Sisson, M.D.
Shelley Smith, Ph.D. • Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D.
Paula Turpen, Ph.D. • Irving Zucker, Ph.D.
innovation
UNMC’S
AIDS
A-TEAM
by Elizabeth Kumru
Three decades ago, not one of the five
people in this story had ever heard of the
University of Nebraska Medical Center
or each other. They had only one thing in
common — a future that would be impacted
by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
But today they work together at UNMC
— four scientists and a patient — for a better
treatment, perhaps even a cure, for the
deadly AIDS virus. It’s translational research
at its best.
HIV was described by the Centers for
Disease Control for the first time 30 years
ago. Since then, the catastrophic pandemic
has infected more than 60 million people
worldwide and killed at least half that
number. About one million people in the
United States now have HIV.
What’s significant is that in a state where
only 2,000 people live with HIV, UNMC is
the home to a brain trust of internationally-
known AIDS researchers. In spite of its low
incidence of HIV/AIDS, someone in Nebraska
is diagnosed with HIV every 3½ days.
“Nebraska is not ground zero for the
AIDS virus, but it could be for the next best
treatment,” said UNMC Chancellor Harold
M. Maurer, M.D., noting that 22 percent of
research funds received in the College of
Medicine was for HIV/AIDS.
The four researchers — Howard
Gendelman, M.D.; Courtney Fletcher,
Pharm.D.; Susan Swindells, M.B.B.S., and
Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D. — work with
researchers from several universities,
including the University of NebraskaLincoln, Johns Hopkins and the University of
California San Diego, to attack the disease on
different fronts.
The patient, Eric Ernsberger, has
experienced all the difficulties that go with the
virus. Together, they are on the frontline of the
disease. Here are their stories.
5
UNMC discover
A low power (left) and high power (right) electron
micrograph of an HIV-1-infected cell shows that it
contains viral particles, but none appear at the cell
surface. Dr. Howard Gendelman and his team were
among the first to develop the Trojan Horse theory
more than 25 years ago to describe how a virus can
spread among people and cause tissue damage in
the face of active immunity.
Dr. Howard Gendelman
among the first to link infection to HIV,
macrophages, microglia and dementia
Dr. Howard Gendelman treated his first
AIDS patient in 1980 in the Bronx before
the disease was described. The man had
pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), an
infection that normally was associated with
terminal cancer patients on chemotherapy.
“Death then came within days or weeks.
There was very little we could do to treat it,”
he said.
Two years later he was at Johns Hopkins
School of Medicine in Baltimore, studying
the slow infection of the nervous system
caused by the Visna-Maedi virus, which is in
the same viral class as HIV. That’s where he
discovered the role an immune system cell
— macrophages — play in Visna, and later in
HIV. The discoveries launched his career.
As part of the immune system,
macrophages destroy pathogens, including
viruses and bacteria. What Dr. Gendelman
found was that macrophage cells actually carry
HIV to the brain, where it causes dementia.
6
FALL 2011
At first, the theory was discounted, but
opinions changed after he co-authored
a book on it — “The Neurology of AIDS,”
now in its third edition — and found that
similar observations linked macrophages to
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
“There is a common mechanism,” he said.
“What I learned from AIDS opened the door
to the other neurodegenerative diseases.”
Based on his work, Dr. Gendelman
just completed a proof-of-concept clinical
investigation for a Parkinson’s immunization
strategy that he soon hopes will enter Phase
I testing.
Many people with AIDS suffer from brain
damage and medication does not cross the
blood-brain barrier. In a twist of science, Dr.
Gendelman recently turned the macrophage
from a disease carrier into a drug delivery
system to get drugs across that barrier.
As part of his team’s nanoformulated
antiretroviral therapy, or NanoART project,
he has discovered how to use macrophages
to carry ART directly to damaged and virusinfected disease sites. Nine senior scientists
at UNMC are involved in the complex and
multifaceted nanoformulations for this project.
“This could significantly improve the
treatment of HIV/AIDS,” Dr. Gendelman
said. With proof-of-concept in hand, the new
therapy is anticipated to be tested in clinical
trials within the next two years.
In the future, Dr. Gendelman hopes to
address several problems associated with
current HIV/AIDS therapy:
❚❚ HIV therapy is lifelong and complex. There
are often many pills that need to be taken
each day and for the rest of a patient’s life.
❚❚ While therapies prolong life, they also
increase toxicity because of the length of
treatment.
❚❚ Medications do not destroy the viral
reservoirs in the body.
❚❚ Some patients who have HIV/AIDS — drug
addicts, IV users and people in remote areas
of Africa — experience the most difficulty with
medication compliance.
Dr. Howard Fox
aging and AIDS
Dr. Howard Fox was a third-year
medical student in a neurology clerkship
at San Francisco General Hospital in the
1980s when he first saw HIV patients with
neurological problems.
Later, as a scientist at the Scripps Research
Institute in La Jolla, Calif., he studied HIV’s
effect on the brain. Antiretroviral therapy
helped reduce dementia, but Dr. Fox noticed
that neurological disorders remained —
patients couldn’t move or think easily.
By the mid-1990s, Dr. Fox began to hear
about Dr. Gendelman and his work at UNMC.
“We worked in parallel worlds. I met him
at meetings and now we work together along
with Drs. Fletcher and Swindells in Omaha,”
Dr. Fox said.
“We don’t know what the long-term
effects of these drugs are or the long-term
effects of the virus. There are 25,000 genes in
the body, and we know little about how they
interact. We need to look at everything — how
gene expressions change in different states
and how they work together.”
Dr. Fox’s NIH funded HIV Research
Center will explore a field of biology that
combines different techniques to identify,
measure and correlate the broad range
of proteins and molecules associated with
neuroAIDS.
“As people with HIV/AIDS live longer
on medication, they seem to age quicker
and suffer from age-related conditions
— atherosclerosis, cancers, heart disease
and stroke. We see markers of chronic
inflammation,” he said.
Macrophages, even when HIV infected,
can live forever. HIV infection has become a
chronic condition, like diabetes.”
With HIV growing in the over-50 age group,
Dr. Fox said he wants primary care physicians to
talk to their patients about safe sex.
“This was a generation that grew up
worrying about getting pregnant. Now, it’s
a generation that should be worried about
getting HIV/AIDS,” he said.
Groundbreaking discoveries in HIV/AIDS
This year alone:
❚❚ Dr. Swindells, the Terry K. Watanabe
Professor and medical director of UNMC’s
HIV Clinic, showed that the transmission
of HIV infection can be prevented in a
relationship, if the HIV-infected person is
given antiretroviral therapy;
❚❚ Dr. Gendelman, professor and chairman
of the department of pharmacology and
experimental neuroscience and director of
the Center for Neurodegenerative Disorders,
leads a team that developed a new therapy
that may allow patients with HIV to receive
a weekly injection rather than take daily a
regimen of pills to manage their disease.
Called NanoART, it is funded by a three-year,
$4.6 million grant from the NIH;
❚❚ Dr. Fox, professor in the UNMC Department
of Pharmacology and Experimental
Neuroscience and senior associate dean
of research and development for the
College of Medicine, recently received a
NIH center grant totaling $9 million to
investigate the now chronic nature of HIV
infection and its interaction with aging.
He directs the Chronic HIV infection and
Aging in NeuroAIDS (CHAIN) Center and
the Center for Integrative and Translational
Neuroscience (CITN); and
❚❚ Dr. Fletcher, dean of the College of Pharmacy,
led a multi-center study that developed
the first dosage guidelines for the protease
inhibitor atazanavir in HIV-infected children
as young as three months of age. In 1990,
he also pioneered dosing guidelines for
HIV-infected children that led to government
approval of the drug efavirenz.
UNMC discover
7
Dr. Susan
Swindells
HIV/AIDS clinician
Dr. Courtney Fletcher
children and AIDS
Dr. Courtney Fletcher had just finished his
doctoral program at the University Minnesota
in 1982 when he became interested in viral
infections.
His first NIH grant was to research HIV in
children. After Communism fell in 1989, Dr.
Fletcher was asked to help with an AIDS crisis
in Romania, where 94 percent of initial cases
were in children under age 13.
“Sailors would donate blood in
exchange for money in the Black Sea ports
of Romania,” he said. “Back then, the
Romanian government believed that a daily
microinfusion of whole blood would treat
malnourishment and boost immunity for
hospitalized and homeless children,” he said.
By the year 2000, 60 percent of Europe’s
pediatric HIV/AIDS cases were registered in
Romania; most were infants living in public
institutions. For his work there, Dr. Fletcher
was made an honorary member of the
Romanian Infectious Disease Society.
By 1995, Dr. Fletcher’s work took him to
South Africa, where he and colleagues treated
8
FALL 2011
children with anti-HIV drugs, in particular nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and
protease inhibitors.
South Africa has the highest number
of people infected with HIV in the world. In
2009, the United Nations estimated that
5.6 million people had HIV and AIDS in
South Africa. In 2009, an estimated 330,000
children under age 15 lived with HIV, a figure
that has almost doubled since 2001.
“I was surprised at the size of dosage
needed to raise drug levels in children. They
need much more than we thought — two to
three times the dose per body weight,” Dr.
Fletcher said.
“Children are not just small adults, their
organs work differently in how they absorb
and eliminate drugs.”
Before his arrival at UNMC in 2007,
Dr. Fletcher was familiar with the work of
Drs. Gendelman, Fox and Swindells. He now
collaborates with all three on major studies,
including a large international study on
treatment strategies for HIV and tuberculosis.
Dr. Susan Swindells was treating HIV/
AIDS patients in Columbus, Ohio, when she
was recruited to UNMC in 1991 to help build
an infectious diseases division.
Today, she is one of two physicians
who serve 950 active HIV/AIDS patients in
UNMC’s Specialty Care Clinic in Omaha. She
is director of the Nebraska AIDS Education
Training Center, principal investigator for many
clinical trials and on the leadership of the NIH
AIDS Clinical Trial Group.
An international expert in HIV, Dr. Swindells
recently co-authored the world’s largest study to
evaluate commonly used HIV drugs.
“At first, there was no treatment for
HIV. Today, treatment is at the point where
the disease is more a chronic, manageable
condition, like diabetes,” she said.
She is concerned that HIV/AIDS causes
rapid aging.
“We don’t know why that happens. Heart
disease shows up 10 years earlier than it
should in some people,” Dr. Swindells said.
Eric Ernsberger
an AIDS survivor
Although Nebraska’s HIV/AIDS
population is relatively small, Dr. Swindells
still sees 10 new patients a month.
“What’s scary is that one-fourth of the
people carrying the virus don’t know they
have it and can easily pass it on. Globally,
we’re losing the battle. The virus spreads due
to war, famine, poverty, misconceptions, fear
and ignorance. It’s a highly politicized disease
and I’m worried that people have become
complacent,” she said.
UNMC’s latest development in HIV
treatment has combined three medications in
a single pill taken once a day.
“I’m excited — a single injection would
be a huge step forward in treatment,” Dr.
Swindells said.
Many people are surprised that this
important research is being done in
Nebraska, she said.
“It works well for us. We get a lot of
support at UNMC. We work well together,
there’s less competition for everything and no
backstabbing. It’s a productive atmosphere.”
April 26, 1987, is a day Eric Ernsberger
wishes he could do over. That day, he shared a
needle with someone who was HIV positive.
No longer addicted, Ernsberger, 49, has
had a difficult road, but considers himself to
be lucky to have survived and to have had
UNMC’s help.
He was in San Francisco and had
health insurance until his insurer cancelled
coverage for every male who lived in his Zip
code. Then he moved to Reno, Nev., where
he had his first humiliating encounter with a health care provider.
“After I disclosed to the doctor that I was HIV-positive, he sent me back
into the waiting room. Later, he stood across the crowded room from me and
discussed my case in a loud voice in front of everyone,” he said.
An artist, he moved to Omaha to care for his elderly mother 16 years
ago and met Dr. Swindells.
“She saved my life. I worship her,” he said. “UNMC is absolutely
amazing. Everyone has gone out of their way for me.”
Treatment has improved dramatically since those early years, from
AZT to the protease inhibitors. Ernsberger understands how critical it is to
maintain a strict medication regimen.
“I’ve seen what happens when people don’t comply with a drug
schedule,” he said. This year, he buried his partner who had a progressive
form of neuro-AIDS that consumed more than 50 percent of his brain.
Ernsberger has personally dealt with stage four kidney failure, hepatitis
C, shingles and Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that was a harbinger of the
AIDS epidemic. His goal is to outlive his 75-year-old mother.
He is so grateful for the care he’s received that he participates in as
many clinical trials as he can. At one point, he was in five different studies at
the same time. In a compliance trial, in which he had to take a pill every four
hours, he was the only person out of 500 to comply 100 percent.
“I’m the best pill-taker ever,” Ernsberger said.
After battling the disease for so long, Ernsberger said he’s begun to feel
the effects of old age.
“I feel like I’m 20 years older than I am. I’m full of aches and pains,” he
said. “Many of my friends who have managed their disease well are now
dying from age-related diseases.”
He longs for the day that people look for a cure instead of control.
“Right now, we all live waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he said.
9
web
extra
unmc.edu/discover
Listen to Dr. Swindells discuss the
state of HIV/AIDS research and care.
UNMC discover
Losing weight
online in rural
Nebraska
by Karen Burbach
Nancy Kamrath has tried lots of
diet programs.
“I know them all. I’ve done them all.”
And, each time, she has success in losing weight
— for a while.
Now, the rural Rising City woman hopes to shed
the extra pounds for good as part of a unique UNMC
College of Nursing research study specifically geared
to rural women like her.
She’s hopeful the web-based intervention for
weight loss and weight maintenance will help her
meet her personal goals to lower her cholesterol,
shed about 50 pounds and, most importantly, keep
the weight off. “This is a new approach,” she said.
“It’s a lifestyle change.”
Kamrath is a newbie in the study designed to
help about 300 women work toward lifestyle changes
at home via Internet access rather than in organized
groups. Researchers will evaluate three interventions
— an interactive web site, a peer-led discussion group
and e-mail counseling — to determine which is the
most effective with the least cost.
Nancy Kamrath undergoes a health assessment as part of a UNMC weight loss and weight
maintenance study for rural Nebraska women. Here, project study specialist Heather
Speicher of Columbus weighs Kamrath as UNMC’s Carol Pullen, Ed.D., takes notes.
10
FALL 2011
“We want women to adopt
lifestyles and behaviors
that promote their health
and enhance their quality
of life as they age.”
Through the Women Weigh-in for Wellness
study, study participants adopt the “Six S
Plan for Success”:
❚❚ Self-commit
❚❚ Self-monitor
❚❚ Set SMART goals (specific, measurable,
attainable, realistic and timely)
❚❚ Smart eating
❚❚ Start moving
❚❚ Support
Carol Pullen, Ed.D.
The Internet-based results could benefit
rural women who have limited options for
weight loss guidance, said Carol Pullen, Ed.D.,
principal investigator on the $3.2 million
Women Weigh-in for Wellness study, funded
by the National Institutes of Health, National
Institute of Nursing Research.
“Obesity is costly to the nation, as well as to
people’s health,” she said.
An estimated two-thirds of Americans are
overweight or obese and face a higher risk for
diabetes, heart disease and possibly cancer.
“This study is well-suited for peri- and postmenopausal rural women who want to prevent
disease and improve their health and function
so they can maintain an independent lifestyle
as they age,” said Dr. Pullen, professor in the
Department of Community-Based Health in
the UNMC College of Nursing. “Changes in
diet and exercise to promote weight loss and
prevent weight regain can significantly change
the risk.”
Study participants — all between the ages
of 45 and 69 who live within 50 miles of
Columbus, Neb., and are overweight or obese
— will post online their diet and activity levels,
answer questions related to their behavior
changes and receive online education and
support for their goals. They also will make
eight visits to the Central Community College
— Columbus campus, which has provided
facilities for the study, to receive initial and
periodic health and fitness assessments.
Although the study lasts 30 months,
Dr. Pullen hopes the healthy behaviors last
a lifetime.
“We want women to adopt lifestyles and
behaviors that promote their health and
enhance their quality of life as they age,” she
said. “In our earlier studies, about three-fourths
of our women were overweight compared to
two-thirds nationally.”
A native of Tennessee, Dr. Pullen worked on
rural projects long before joining UNMC in the
summer of 1993. Her interdisciplinary research
has focused on health promotion of vulnerable
at-risk rural women, specifically how to change
their eating and activity levels to promote
weight loss and lower blood pressure. She also
works to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease.
Researchers have determined that weight
loss programs delivered via the Internet may be
an effective alternative to traditional programs
for weight loss. But, Dr. Pullen said, there are few
studies that examine weight maintenance.
Her research will be conducted in three
phases: guided weight loss, guided weight
maintenance and self-directed weight
maintenance. Women who follow the plan
should be able to lose up to 10 percent of their
body weight in six months. Through healthier
behaviors, they also are more likely to maintain
their weight loss, as weight regain often occurs
within one or two years.
“We tell the women in the study that it’s
hard work. It’s a journey,” Dr. Pullen said.
“Increasing women’s physical activity to
recommended levels is essential for preventing
weight regain,” said Pat Hageman, Ph.D.,
professor of physical therapy education in
UNMC’s School of Allied Health Professions
and a member of the research team.
Kamrath — a busy mom to four,
grandmother to 11 and cake shop owner — is
up for the challenge.
“I’d like to see some weight loss
every week, at least a pound,” she said.
“Maintenance is the hard part, but, I know
every diet program inside and out and this is
an approach I can follow.”
For more information, contact Maureen Oberdorfer,
project coordinator, at [email protected] or Dr.
Pullen at [email protected]
11
UNMC discover
DNA
the primary frontier
Jim Eudy, Ph.D., Left, directs the Next Generation DNA Sequencing
Core facility with Alok Dhar, Ph.D., who is the lead technologist
12
responsible for the wet-bench components and daily operations
of the Illumina GAIIx Instrument.
FALL 2011
by Elizabeth Kumru
Bioinformatics analyst
Adam Cornish, foreground,
and Robert Boissy, Ph.D.,
process data generated by
the sequencer and assist
with analysis, data storage
and retrieval.
V
oyage into the building blocks of life — adenine, guanine,
cytosine and thymine — the nucleotide bases in a molecule
of DNA. Here, within these DNA nucleotides, lie answers to the
mysteries of life’s genetic diseases.
The mission of the Next Generation DNA Sequencing Core
Facility (NGS) is to sequence large amounts of DNA quickly and
inexpensively, said Director Jim Eudy, Ph.D. “It took $2.7 billion and a
factory full of DNA analysis instruments 13 years to sequence the first
human genome. With the latest NGS instrument, we can do it in 10
days for less than $10,000.”
The advent of Next Generation DNA sequencing allows whole
genomes — from humans and other animals to plants and bacteria
— to be analyzed in a matter of days instead of months or years. The
technology will significantly accelerate UNMC research and discovery
in cancer, inheritable diseases, infectious diseases and autism.
“We can measure which genes are actively expressed at any given
time (transcriptomes) and study the genetics of inherited diseases,” Dr.
Eudy said.
The core facility is funded by grants from the National Institutes
of Health, the Nebraska Research Network in Functional Genomics
NE-INBRE, Molecular Biology of Neurosensory Systems CoBRE and
the Nebraska Research Initiative.
The core facility works closely with the Center for Bioinformatics
and Systems Biology at UNMC. Affiliated with the center are Robert
Boissy, Ph.D., assistant professor, internal medicine, and Adam
Cornish. Dr. Boissy leads the bioinformatics team that processes the
data generated by the sequencer and assists with experimental design
and analysis.
This technology holds great promise for genome-wide genetic
analysis that may influence the treatment of human diseases,
development of prognostic biomarkers and the identification of
cancer-generating mutations or viral drug-resistance, he said.
“This technology will further our understanding of genetics at a
much more rapid pace than has been previously imagined,” Dr. Eudy
said. “It’s an exciting time to be performing genomics research.”
web
extra
unmc.edu/discover
Learn more about UNMC’s DNA
sequencing core facility.
UNMC discover
13
?
Can you
translate
by Elizabeth Kumru
Jennifer Larsen, M.D., wants to boost
translational research at UNMC.
UNMC’s new vice chancellor for research is looking for translators ­­— of science.
J
14
ennifer Larsen, M.D., wants to recruit
more translational investigators who
can transform discoveries from the
laboratory into new treatments in the clinic
and then into the community.
A translational research team includes
multiple senior scientists with different types of
expertise, she said.
One such team at UNMC has successfully
attacked the problem of neuro-AIDS — when
the virus changes brain function. The team
FALL 2011
found that inflammation was the cause and
has reformulated medications to pass through
the blood-brain barrier to target the source
(see story page 5).
Another team looks at the important
clinical problem of antibiotic resistant
staphylococcal infections, or MRSA. They
have found the reason why this infection is so
hard to treat and have begun to develop new
materials that may be more resistant to these
types of infections.
“Multiple investigators with different skills
and perspectives result in a speedier and
more effective solution to a complex problem
than one scientist could develop alone. This is
translational science,” Dr. Larsen said.
“Changes in health care occur more
rapidly when teams of basic, clinical and public
health investigators of different backgrounds
and research skills work together to tackle
problems that lead to disease or health
disparities,” she said.
“OUR EXPANDING RESEARCH ENTERPRISE WILL
IMPROVE the health of Nebraskans.”
Jennifer Larsen, M.D.
“Discovery, by nature is bidirectional —
sometimes we approach a problem from the
basic science laboratory and bring it into the
clinic or hospital.”
“Sometimes observations are made in
the clinical setting that can be solved in the
laboratory, which we call bedside-to-bench
research,” Dr. Larsen said.
But translating a discovery into the
community can be more challenging.
“For example, many studies have shown
that weight loss prevents type 2 onset
diabetes, but we have not been effective at
persuading or achieving weight loss in many
individuals at risk.”
Dr. Larsen is one of those translational
research scientists, having done both basic
and clinical research as well as working with
Native American communities on public health
initiatives to prevent diabetes.
“Our basic science research programs
are strong and we will continue to focus on
strategies to grow this area at UNMC,” Dr.
Larsen said.
“However, if we can speed the translation
of discoveries between the laboratory
and clinical setting, and get them to the
community, we could markedly improve the
health of our communities and grow our
research enterprise as well,” she said.
“At the same time, we need to further
diversify our research portfolio. Prime examples
of initiatives and resources that will support
these new research directions are plans for
a new Center for Drug Discovery and the
development of the College of Public Health.”
Dr. Larsen, who was associate vice
chancellor for clinical research, became
UNMC’s vice chancellor for research on
July 1 after Tom Rosenquist, Ph.D., stepped
down. Dr. Rosenquist, who had led UNMC’s
research enterprise since 1999, returned to
the faculty in the department of genetics, cell
biology and anatomy.
The principal investigator on four grants,
including two from the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), Dr. Larsen researches
the metabolic consequences of organ
transplantation and has conducted clinical
trials with Native Americans to create
strategies to prevent diabetes.
There are many strategies and tools
to expand translational research. Already,
UNMC investigators are using technology
in their research, particularly to solve health
issues in rural communities and decrease
rural health disparities.
When technology helps bridge the
distance into rural communities, it is called
tele-research, Dr. Larsen said.
“UNMC investigators now use cell
phones, websites and other mobile devices to
monitor individuals participating in trials as
well as to change behavior, or study devices
that allow remote testing or consultation,”
she said.
Technology also is used to inform health
care providers in rural communities about
clinical trials available to their patients.
Another growing area of research is the
study of how genetics influence both the risk
for disease as well as guide therapy. “Genetic
tests now help us make treatment decisions
so the right people get the right medicine,”
Dr. Larsen said. This area of research is called
pharmacogenomics.
Biomedical informatics — the application of
computer science to biology and medicine — is
essential to making these connections between
genetic changes and health outcomes. This
science also helps investigators understand
and analyze images and other physiologic
data, as well as trends in health using large
public health data.
UNMC is working with sister campuses
— the University of Nebraska at Omaha and
University of Nebraska-Lincoln — to develop
a collaborative graduate degree program in
biomedical informatics to meet the need for
specialists and investigators.
15
UNMC discover
UNMC also is expanding its expertise in
regenerative medicine — how to effectively
create new cells when old or damaged cells
or tissues fail — and comparative effectiveness
research, which directly compares effective
treatments for differences in outcome and cost.
UNMC’s research enterprise has grown
dramatically over the past decade. Between
2000 and 2010 federal grants and contracts
increased 234 percent from $27.3 million
(adjusted for inflation) in 2000 to $91.6 million
in 2010.
“Along with the growth in grants, our
scientists have grown in stature as well. Our
teams are internationally recognized for their
breakthroughs in medical research,” she said.
UNMC researchers have made
advancements in the fields of cancer,
neuroscience, cardiovascular medicine,
transplantation, nanomedicine, genetics,
biotechnology, and infectious diseases, as
well as rheumatoid arthritis, diseases of
alcohol and smoking, rural health and health
disparities.
“But, as our research enterprise expands
and the NIH budget remains flat, we need to
look for new research funding opportunities,”
Dr. Larsen said.
Many UNMC investigators are exploring
opportunities with the U.S. Department of
Defense and the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality.
Investigators have been linked with
engineers and other industry partners to
develop new biotechnologies that can create
or attract industries in, and to, Nebraska.
“With increasing expertise in drug
delivery and public health, we also have more
opportunities to expand our research into the
community.
“Increasingly, we target researchers in key
areas to create broad translational teams.
Our expanding research enterprise will rapidly
improve the health of Nebraskans.”
16
FALL 2011
Ken Bayles, Ph.D.
Chris Kratochvil, M.D.
Dr. Bayles takes basic
research charge
Dr. Kratochvil wants
to grow clinical
research
The newest member of the research
leadership team is Ken Bayles, Ph.D. He is
the first associate vice chancellor for basic
science research.
The position was created to facilitate
communication about research programs
and resources with the basic science research
community and help the vice chancellor for
research develop initiatives, programs and
core facilities that will attract and retain
scientists conducting cutting-edge science.
“Ken is an internationally recognized
researcher who has built an accomplished
translational research team,” said Jennifer
Larsen, M.D., vice chancellor for research.
“He not only understands the importance of
key technologies to basic science research
but also understands the importance of basic
and clinical investigators working together to
successfully tackle our greatest health problems
and grow UNMC’s research enterprise.”
Dr. Bayles, professor of pathology and
microbiology and director of the UNMC
Center for Staphylococcal Research, said he is
invigorated by his new mission.
“One of my primary goals is to foster
communication between our basic and clinical
scientists,” he said. “Once the conversation
starts, it doesn’t take long to find common
ground. It is our mission to help develop
this into a sustainable and productive
collaboration.”
Since Chris Kratochvil, M.D., was
appointed assistant vice chancellor for clinical
research last year, he has started to unify and
restructure the clinical research resources
throughout campus and streamline the clinical
research process for investigators.
“There are many different kinds of clinical
trials. One of my roles is to match UNMC
investigators with contract-related clinical
research on campus. Already, this has led to
greater research opportunities for our faculty
and has benefited our patients,” he said.
Last year, UNMC was designated a prime
site by Quintiles — the largest clinical research
organization in the world — a development
that stands to significantly increase the
number of clinical trials conducted at the
medical center, Dr. Kratochvil said.
Prime sites are large clinical institutions
that collaborate with Quintiles to enhance
their infrastructure for conducting clinical trials,
improve efficiencies and increase productivity.
UNMC is one of just four Quintiles prime sites
in the U.S.
Voices in the plaza
work to improve
research, health
The plaza — it’s the heart of any
small town or village.
It’s a place where city services such as
government, schools and health care are found
and where people come together to celebrate,
share information and socialize.
Based on that concept, UNMC faculty
in the College of Public Health initiated the
Plaza Partnership Project to bring more
than 90 agencies in South Omaha together
to collaborate on community-linked health
research that will address such complex
issues as childhood obesity, mental illness and
prenatal care for undocumented women.
“If we are to discover breakthroughs in
community health, it makes sense to bring
people together in new ways to ask hard
questions and find fresh solutions,” said
Magda Peck, Sc.D., principal investigator
of the three-year project that is funded by a
$993,063 grant from the National Institutes
of Health.
By building greater trust within the
community and partnering with agencies
already on the ground, we can conduct more
meaningful health research, Dr. Peck said.
The four “plaza partners” in the project are
UNMC, the South Omaha Community Care
Council, Douglas County Health Department
and OneWorld Community Health, Inc. Each
group, in one way or another, already is
engaged in the South Omaha community and
has a vested interest in the success of future
health research projects, she said.
A basic challenge is getting people who
live and work in a community to understand
the value of research.
“There is a degree of skepticism when
researchers come into communities of color,”
said Alberto Cervantes, president of the South
Omaha Community Care Council, and one of
Voices
in the plaza
by Lisa Spellman
three community research associates funded
by the grant.
That skepticism is based on years of
‘helicopter’ research when researchers would
drop into communities, conduct their studies
then leave just as abruptly. Unfortunately,
people in such communities never experience
the benefits of the research or see the outcomes,
which leads to mistrust, Cervantes said.
What this project does, he said, is bring
people together where they have a voice.
In the past six months, Cervantes and
Christopher Fisher, Ph.D., assistant professor in
the UNMC College of Public Health, have held
forums and workshops with members from all
four project partners, to discuss communitybased health research, its benefits and how to
get involved.
The groups also discussed strategies for
engagement, related to research and data
needed to improve the health and wellbeing of the South Omaha community. The
conversations, the first of a series, will continue
to be held among, and at, all four partner
organizations and beyond for the duration of
the project.
“It’s vital that we ask questions that
are important and directly related to the
community,” Dr. Fisher said.
Anne O’Keefe, M.D., senior
epidemiologist with the Douglas County
Health Department and another community
research associate, agrees.
“My hope is if we can change how
research is done, then people in the
community will be more invested, the research
will be more relevant to the people and we’ll
have better outcomes,” Dr. O’Keefe said.
The leadership of the Plaza Partnership
Project, which also includes Kris McVea, M.D.,
chief medical officer for OneWorld Community
Health, Inc., and Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway,
Ph.D., associate professor of public health,
will collaborate with partners from across the
plaza to develop timely and relevant reports
on health data specific to South Omahans.
In January 2012, the project will launch
the next phase to generate new and innovative
research by and for South Omaha — the
Research Action Learning Collaboratives.
Teams, led by a community member and
a researcher, will engage in nine months of
training to increase capacity, build skills and
develop mutually beneficial research questions.
The teams will emerge at the end of the
process with the tools to obtain federal funding
for their projects.
The bottom line, Dr. Peck said, is to
generate great research together that can
be translated into new ways that people and
communities can become healthier.
Get involved in the Plaza Partnership —
contact Dr. Fisher, [email protected]
17
UNMC discover
The
Eyes
Have It
Everywhere he
goes, Wally Thoreson,
Ph.D., can’t help but
ponder
the science behind
by Lisa Spellman
what he sees. Even a stroll
through the Amsterdam flower
market in Holland starts him on a
thought process about the regulation of
synaptic release, cones and color perception.
Dr. Thoreson, a professor in the
departments of ophthalmology and visual
sciences, and pharmacology and experimental
neuroscience at UNMC, has spent more than
25 years studying how sensory signals are
transmitted from the eye to the brain to give
meaning to the things we see and hear.
His research, published in the August
issue of Nature Neuroscience, could lay
the necessary groundwork to develop new
18
FALL 2011
Wally Thoreson, Ph.D., examines the eyes of
salamanders to understand human diseases.
treatments for a variety of degenerative
diseases of the eye and ear such as Usher’s
syndrome and rod-cone dystrophy.
“An understanding of how these signals are
transmitted can give us a better understanding
of the causes of neurodegenerative diseases,”
Dr. Thoreson said.
His research also has led to a better
understanding of the role of synaptic ribbons,
specialized structures found in sensory neurons
that help transmit information.
The photoreceptor synapse is one focus of
Dr. Thoreson’s research. This critical synapse
transmits the information needed to determine
what the eye sees, he said.
It does this by translating visual stimuli into
electrical signals that are sent along sensory
neurons into the brain via the synaptic ribbon.
The synaptic ribbon releases information
Fluorescent dyes light up a cross-section of a
salamander retina to show a rod (white), cone (yellow),
horizontal cell (magenta) and a bipolar cell (blue). The
horizontal colored lines are the recording electrodes.
packaged in neurotransmitter-filled packets
which carry it into the brain. These rapidly
moving packets are in constant motion in order
to keep up with the flow of new information.
“It’s amazing to think about the role of
the synapse, the process by which it conducts
information and how one small alteration to
this process can change the way a person sees
color,” he said.
“The way the world looks is a consequence
of the way information is sent along those
synapses. Diseases of the eye — night
blindness, color blindness or rod cone
dystrophy — involve damage to proteins used
in that process,” Dr. Thoreson said.
By studying the photoreceptor synapse
and the regulation of the release of these
proteins along the synaptic ribbon under
normal circumstances, Dr. Thoreson hopes to
learn more about what happens when these
proteins malfunction and lead to vision loss.
“It’s amazing to think about the
role of the synapse, the process
by which it conducts information
and how one small alteration to
this process can change the way
a person sees color.”
Wally Thoreson, Ph.D.
“I’m hoping my studies also will help us
understand how this process works in other
neurodegenerative diseases,” Dr. Thoreson said.
His research has given him an appreciation
for the amazing capabilities of the human eye:
the ability to see light at levels where only a
few photons fall on the eye to light intensities
10 billion times greater, the diversity of colors
perceived using only spectrally-distinct types of
cones, and even how small disruptions can have
a major impact on the function of the eye.
“I have always been fascinated with vision,
how it is perceived and where that perception
of what we see originates, in the eye or in the
brain,” he said.
As a boy, Dr. Thoreson was particularly
interested in insects and how they see and smell.
He studied insect pheromone receptors in
graduate school with plans to develop a novel
approach to help farmers control pesky bugs
without the use of pesticides.
“Unfortunately, no one in entomology
was qualified to teach the electrophysiological
techniques I needed to conduct those studies,
so I switched to vertebrate physiology and
a different sensory receptor — the eye,” Dr.
Thoreson said.
Twenty-eight years later, Dr. Thoreson still
studies how photoreceptors in the eyes work
by using salamanders, whose retinas are
physiologically similar to humans.
He has received more than $5 million in
research support from the National Institutes
of Health, Research to Prevent Blindness and
Fight for Sight.
“At the end of the day, it’s my hope that
by understanding the basic function of vision,
we are able to repair and restore sight,” Dr.
Thoreson said.
19
UNMC discover
UNMC
news
Homing in on pancreatic cancer
W
ith the deaths of Apple founder Steve
Jobs and Nobel Prize winner Ralph
Steinman, M.D., pancreatic cancer is back on
the public’s radar screen.
But, for UNMC researchers — who recently
landed a $4.2 million grant from the National
Cancer Institute — it’s a constant quest to
better understand, and halt, the deadly cancer.
“Our ultimate goal is to determine what
makes pancreatic cancer so lethal,” said
Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman
of the UNMC Department of Biochemistry
and Molecular Biology and the principal
investigator on the five-year grant. “We want
to develop new therapeutics that work on
pancreas cancer, because the drugs currently
being used are not working.”
Pancreatic cancer is arguably one of
the most lethal cancers. Annually, more
than 44,000 Americans discover they have
pancreatic cancer. More than 95 percent of
those diagnosed die within a few years of
diagnosis.
There are no screening tools for pancreatic
cancer and the location of the pancreas, deep
in the abdomen, hinders early diagnosis.
UNMC has established itself as a
national leader in the study of pancreatic
cancer with unique resources and more
than $25 million in overall research funding
through several NIH grants.
Dr. Batra’s team will study animal models
and human pancreas tissue.
“We will look at the role of the tumor
micro-environment of cancer cells,” Dr. Batra
said. “We will try to figure out what makes
these cells so aggressive, so resistant. We
will study the pancreas, which is loaded with
insulin, and try to determine if this environment
is what makes pancreatic cancer so hostile.”
Foundation grants support research
collaboration in China, India
I
nternational research programs at UNMC focused on diabetes, environmental health
factors and lymphoma have received support through $250,000 in grant awards from the
University of Nebraska Foundation.
The grants support UNMC’s substantial international programs, said Chancellor Harold
M. Maurer, M.D., and enable research teams to conduct pilot studies through collaboration
with institutions and colleagues in China and India. The awards also prepare UNMC to
apply to the National Institutes of Health for support of these studies.
UNMC faculty members who received the awards are:
20
❚❚ Nora Sarvetnick, Ph.D., director of the Nebraska Regenerative Medicine Project – $50,000
to support first-year research needed for a collaborative study of genetic and immunological
features associated with Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes in India.
❚❚ Pinaki Panigrahi, M.D., Ph.D., director of UNMC’s Center for Global Health and Development
in the College of Public Health – $100,000 to support research on the effects of
environmental toxins on the health of mothers and infants in rural areas of India.
❚❚ Wing-Chung (John) Chan, M.D., the Amelia and Austin Vickery Professor of Pathology –
$100,000 to support a collaborative lymphoma genetics research program between UNMC
and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Surinder Batra, Ph.D.
Three other UNMC investigators will
serve as project leaders along with Dr. Batra.
They are:
❚❚ Tony Hollingsworth, Ph.D., professor in
the Eppley Cancer Institute;
❚❚ Rakesh Singh, Ph.D., professor of
pathology and microbiology; and
❚❚ Keith Johnson, Ph.D., professor in the
College of Dentistry.
Eppley Institute
celebrates 50 years
of research
T
he Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer
and Allied Diseases — or simply the Eppley
Institute as it’s commonly called on campus —
celebrated its 50th anniversary in September.
Founded with funds from the Eugene C.
Eppley Foundation, National Institutes of Health
and the University of Nebraska, the institute
has for half a century been a place where
researchers work to understand cancer and
improve its diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
The institute was initially part of the
College of Medicine but, in 1972, became an
independent research institute that fell under
the jurisdiction of the UNMC chancellor.
Today the institute employs 31 faculty
members who conduct cutting-edge basic and
translational cancer research.
Dr. Kabanov receives ‘mega-grant’ from Russian government
U
NMC nanomedicine guru Alexander
“Sasha” Kabanov, Ph.D., D.Sc., will
operate labs on two continents thanks to a
two-year, $4.5 million “mega-grant” from the
Russian government.
Dr. Kabanov, the Parke-Davis Professor in
Pharmaceutics and director of the Center for
Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine at UNMC,
is one of 40 Russian, foreign or expatriate
Russian scientists who last year received a
new type of grant to bring their expertise to
Russian universities.
Dr. Kabanov joins an elite group of grant
winners: One is a Nobel laureate and another
holds a Fields Medal, commonly regarded as
math’s Nobel Prize.
The only chemist in the group, Dr. Kabanov
will lead one of six projects at Moscow State
University (MSU), his alma mater. He will study
chemical formulations of enzymes and proteins
for bionanomaterials.
“I am looking for a different approach to
therapy for drug-resistant bacteria,” he said.
The grant from Russia recognizes the quality
of Dr. Kabanov’s research, said Don Leuenberger,
vice chancellor of business and finance.
The 12-billion-rouble (U.S. $428 million)
‘mega-grant’ program is part of Russia’s
attempt to strengthen research at its
universities and modernize the country’s
science and economy at large.
Dr. Kabanov’s laboratory will be in the
MSU Department of Chemistry, where he also
was a leading research fellow before the fall of
the Soviet Union.
Dr. Kabanov and Leuenberger recently
signed an agreement with MSU to protect
intellectual property developed through this
Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., D.Sc.
collaboration. The agreement, negotiated
by UNeMed, UNMC’s technology transfer
arm, also gives MSU the license to use Dr.
Kabanov’s technologies that he developed at
UNMC and gives UNMC access to enzyme
engineering technology available at MSU.
COPH lands two large grants with rural focus
T
he UNMC College of Public Health has
secured two large grants to improve health
for rural Nebraskans.
Such announcements could become more
common for the college as its newly-acquired
accreditation makes its faculty eligible for
more funding opportunities, said dean Ayman
El-Mohandes, M.B.B.Ch., M.D., M.P.H.
In October, the college was accredited by
the Council on Education for Public Health and
became a full member of the Association of
Schools of Public Health.
Accreditation makes the college eligible
for additional research funding available
only to accredited schools and colleges, Dr.
El-Mohandes said. The goal, he said, is to secure
$12 million in annual research funding within
two years.
The two national grants total $7.6 million
and fund two new regional centers to improve
the health of rural Nebraskans.
The Central States Center for Agricultural
Safety and Health — one of nine national centers
funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the
National Institutes of Health — serves seven
states and nearly one quarter of American
farmers, said Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., associate
professor of environmental, agricultural and
occupational health and administrator of the
grant. The center will do research on asthma,
agricultural injury surveillance and health and
safety education of farmers.
During the past 10 years, agriculture
has outpaced mining as the most hazardous
industry in the nation, based on occupational
fatality rates.
The Great Plains Public Health Training
Center at UNMC is funded by a four-year,
$2.6 million grant from the Health Resources
and Services Administration. It is under the
direction of Magda Peck, Sc.D., associate
dean for community engagement and public
health practice.
Since 2002, the number of health
departments has grown significantly in
Nebraska as has the need for expanded
training of the public health workforce. The
center will:
❚❚ Assess public health workforce needs
throughout the state;
❚❚ Fund collaborative projects;
❚❚ Place students in the field; and
❚❚ Expand continuing professional
education opportunities.
Study provides new hope for COPD patients
Stephen Rennard, M.D.
U
NMC’s Stephen Rennard, M.D., played
a key role in a study that could change
the way health professionals and patients
view chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD) — the third leading cause of death in
the United States.
The study in the Sept. 26 online issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine challenges a
long-held belief that COPD always gets worse,
never better.
“This is the first study to show definitively
that COPD does not always get worse,” said
Dr. Rennard, senior author of the paper and
professor of pulmonary and critical care
medicine in the UNMC Department of Internal
Medicine. “This study establishes that the
disease can be stable, at least over a three-year
time frame, and may even improve some.”
Another key finding of the study revealed
that patients with moderately severe COPD on
average lose lung function more quickly than
those with severe COPD.
“Drug development to slow the disease
has been aimed primarily at those with severe
disease when those with moderate disease are
losing lung function faster,” Dr. Rennard said.
“We’ve frequently ignored those with moderate
COPD and not treated this stage of the disease
aggressively. That may be a mistake.”
Study findings could change the focus of
treatment for COPD to emphasize identifying
those with COPD earlier, Dr. Rennard said.
Whether specific treatments can stabilize
lung function or improve it will need to be
studied, Dr. Rennard said.
“This will change the way we think about
the disease and is a cause for cautious
optimism,” Dr. Rennard said. “The key message
is that it’s not hopelessly progressive in
everyone.”
web
extra
unmc.edu/discover
Watch Dr. Rennard explain
how the research offers new
hope to COPD patients.
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Under the microscope
by Elizabeth Kumru
Big things come in small packages
Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D., develops bullets that carry
drugs to hit precise targets.
The targets — disease sites in the body that, up
until now, have been hard to reach.
Dr. Bronich, associate director of the Center for
Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine and professor of
pharmaceutical sciences, directs the Nanomaterials
Core at UNMC where the microscopic drug delivery
systems are customized to treat stroke, hypertension,
traumatic brain injury, obesity, Parkinson’s disease
and cancer.
The Nanomaterials Core supports eight COBRE
(Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence) project
leaders in the development of nanoscale polymer
materials — particles 100,000 times smaller than the
head of a pin — for drug delivery, their characterization
and safety evaluation.
Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., D.Sc., received the
$10.6 million COBRE in October 2008. The five-year
grant is part of the National Institutes of Health’s
Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program.
Dr. Kabanov, director of the Center for Drug
Delivery and Nanomedicine and the COBRE
Nebraska Center for Nanomedicine, has used
these tiny polymeric particles to build a world-class
nanomedicine center at UNMC to develop novel drug
delivery systems.
Dr. Bronich and her team use state-of-the-art
equipment to produce materials for biomedical research
and develop new technologies not yet employed in
research. Core researchers develop nanozymes as a
platform technology for delivery of antioxidants and
antiviral drugs to targeted sites.
Nanomaterials have a unique niche in the
growing field of personalized medicine. “One system
can simultaneously diagnose, treat and then follow
the treatment using reporter
molecules that show what’s going
on in a noninvasive way,” Dr.
Bronich said.
“Innovation is the exciting
part of this job. We’re working
with new materials that are
responsive to external stimuli —
magnetic field or optical signals
— so we can purposely switch
the drug system on and off. We
can deliver a drug to a site in the
body and have it wait there until
we send a signal from outside.”
The external signal is like
a key in an ignition — it won’t
activate an engine (drug) until the
key is turned.
“This could be an enormously
useful tool for clinicians,” she
said. “Once the drug is docked at
the cell, then we can tell it when
and how much to deliver. In many
diseases, it’s critical that the drug
is actively delivered to its target
over a long period of time.
“Our goal for the Nanomaterials Core is to provide
researchers a toolbox of resources that can be used by
the entire UNMC community,” she said.
Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D.
23
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1 University of Washington
2 University of North
Carolina-Chapel Hill
3 Oregon Health and
Science University
4 University of CaliforniaSan Francisco
5 University of Colorado
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7 University of Nebraska
Medical Center
8 University of Massachusetts
9 University of Pennsylvania
10 East Carolina University
UNMC ranked No.7, primarily speaking
Primary care is the foundation for all health care in the United States. At the University of
Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, our novel approaches to primary care medicine
are recognized nationally. The US News & World Report ranks UNMC’s primary care
program seventh, among other prestigious universities. At UNMC, we believe that
teamwork — among our physicians, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners,
pharmacists, public health workers and others — ensures that our patients receive the best
and most innovative care possible. We continually explore new models of team care and
how to best educate the next generation of health care professionals, ensuring a healthier
future for patients in Nebraska and across the nation. UNMC. Breakthroughs for life.
GRAD SCHOOLS
MED SCHOOL
PRIMARY CARE
RESEARCH
RURAL MEDICINE
2012
unmc.edu
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