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November 6, 2008


Pitt to develop anti-radiation drug, delivery method

Pitt researchers have been awarded $2.7 million with options for further funding of up to $9.8 million over the next three years from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a drug that could counter the effects of radiation in case of large-scale public exposure. The ultimate goal of the contract is to develop an easily administered drug that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can store for emergency distribution to hospitals and care facilities.

A team of researchers led by Joel Greenberger, professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology in the School of Medicine, will develop the GS-nitroxide drug JP4-039, identified by the Pitt research team in 2004 as a radioprotector. Using both mouse model and human cell and tissue research, they have shown that the drug, when delivered 24 hours after irradiation, enhances cell recovery.

According to Greenberger, JP4-039 can be delivered directly to the mitochondria, the energy-producing areas of all cells, to help combat irradiation-induced cell death.

“Currently, no drugs on the market counteract the effects of radiation exposure,” said Greenberger, whose lab is part of the University’s Center for Medical Countermeasures. “We know this drug can counteract the damage caused by irradiation, but what we need to develop is the ideal dosage, one that is effective for the general population while remaining non-toxic. Our goal is to take this drug through a phase I clinical trial and, once the dosage is established, develop the drug for late-stage clinical trials and market licensing.”

In complementary research, Louis D. Falo Jr., professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology, and his team received a $1 million research grant from Project BioShield, funded by HHS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to develop a topical way, such as a cream or patch, to administer the drug quickly and easily to a large patient population.

“Our challenge is to develop a next-generation topical delivery strategy that will enable the drug to protect the skin and, at the same time, use the skin as a depot for drug delivery throughout the entire body,” said Falo.

Pitt co-investigators include Michael W. Epperly and Julie Goff of radiation oncology, Peter Wipf of chemistry, Valerian Kagan of environmental and occupational health, Rhonda Brand of dermatology, Hong Wang of biostatistics, Merrill Egorin of hematology/oncology and Theresa Whiteside of pathology and otolaryngology.


Brain injury biomarkers network begun

Amy Wagner of the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation has been awarded nearly $3.4 million by the U.S. Department of the Army/U.S. Department of Defense for a project to establish a military-civilian collaborative brain injury biomarkers development network.

The system aims to evaluate, identify and validate sensitive and effective biomarkers that have promising potential for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment monitoring following traumatic brain injury.


Microscopy project funded

Hrvoje Petek of the Department of Physics and Astronomy has been awarded $1 million from the W.M. Keck Foundation for his project, “Femtosecond Time-resolved Microscopy of Single Molecules.” The primary focus of the joint experimental and theoretical research program is on developing an ultrafast scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

This research will enable studies of the structure and function of single molecules. The ultimate goal of this project is observing and actuating single-molecule machines.


Vocal injury research funded

Katherine Verdolini-Marston of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences has been awarded $504,000 in continuing funding from the NIH for her project, “Hybrid Model Vocal Fold Inflammation and Tissue Mobilization.”

The research aims to generate a technology to allow clinicians to prescribe an ideal, individualized program of vocal exercise or rest to promote healing for patients with larynx injury due to vocal use or abuse.


Ed projects get Heinz funds

Support for a pair of Pitt projects is among $10.2 million in grants from The Heinz Endowments to continue education reform in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The latest round of grants was approved in late October by the foundation’s board. It includes $500,000 for a demonstration project on digital village computing in the University Prep High School, a partnership between Pitt’s School of Education and the city school district; and $360,000 to Pitt’s Office of Child Development for a school-readiness program for students in the Hill District.


Cleft palate research continues

Mary Marazita of the School of Dental Medicine has been awarded an additional five years of funding totaling nearly $3.2 million from the National Institutes of Health, for her project “Extending the Phenotypes of Nonsyndromic Orofacial Clefts.”

The project continues Marazita’s investigation into the genetic variants that are linked to cleft lip and palate.

The project aims to identify physical features, or phenotypes, associated with the birth defects, and will identify genes related to these phenotypes. Better understanding of these variants could lead to improved genetic counseling for families and to improved therapies for the birth defects.


Grant funds ARDS modeling

Surgery professor Yoram Vodovotz, a researcher at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has been awarded $1.35 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Vodovotz is working with a team that includes mathematics professor Gregory M. Constantine to develop mathematical models to describe sepsis-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Trauma and systemic infection can trigger an acute inflammatory response that leads to ARDS, a condition that contributes to the 215,000 deaths in the U.S. each year caused by sepsis.

The mathematical models will be used to conduct computer-based clinical trials and animal studies to develop new treatments for ARDS.


Tsunami data published

A paper co-authored by Katrin Monecke, visiting assistant professor of geology and planetary science at Pitt-Johnstown, offers evidence that a predecessor to the giant Sumatra-Andaman earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, and subsequent Indian Ocean tsunami occurred some 600 years ago. The work, “A 1,000 year sediment record of tsunami recurrence in northern Sumatra,” appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.

The paper is being released alongside a companion work on the paleotsunami record in Thailand that also provides evidence that the youngest full predecessor of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami occurred around 600 years ago.

“Assessing the seismic hazard along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean is a challenging task and involves earth scientists, coastal planners and tsunami warning specialists. Anybody involved in risk reduction wants to know how to better prepare for disasters, and many express the desire for geological records that give the numbers to plan with,” said Monecke.

To view the article, visit


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