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Posted: April 28, 2005

HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER RESEARCHERS RECEIVE $6 MILLION GRANT FOR ALZHEIMER'S RESEARCH


simpkins.jpg A team of researchers from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, the University of Florida at Gainesville, and Washington University in St. Louis will continue to research effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease thanks to a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

James Simpkins, PhD, principal investigator for the program project grant, “Discovery of Novel Drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease,” was notified of the award continuation in February by the National Institute on Aging.

“I’m very excited,” said Dr. Simpkins, who is also chairman of the pharmacology and neuroscience department at the health science center. “This is very important research. That’s why we’ve been doing it now for 14 years. The hope is that one or more of the compounds that we’ve been working on for more than a decade will get into and through clinical trials and will become part of the options for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease. If that’s the case, then the public investment in this program will have been worthwhile.”

Thus far, research from the program project grant has spawned patents in several countries, including the United States and Japan, as well as a European patent. Migenix, Inc. of Vancouver, British Colombia, holds the licensing for some of the compounds discovered so far as a part of the grant.

Peter Koulen, PhD, associate professor in the department of pharmacology and neuroscience at the health science center, also serves on the grant. Dr. Koulen is principal investigator of core C, which is the neuroimaging core, and principal investigator of project 5, which will focus on the role of calcium in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“My role in this project is also to coordinate with the project investigators and principal investigators of other projects,” Dr. Koulen said. “That’s one of the beauties of this program project. We’re not just an array of four independent NIH grants; we also have certain mechanisms built into this project that allow us, when we are finding interesting things in our area, to apply that to the other areas, and we advance and move into another direction. So the overall project is more than its individual components.”

The core facility that Dr. Koulen will be running at the health science center will validate the results of other projects. Dr. Simpkins will run core A, the administrative core, at the health science center. Other cores include core B, the vector core, housed at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and core D, the drug synthesis core, housed at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“These cores provide support for every one of the research activities,” Dr. Simpkins said. “They are pretty unique to program project grants.”

The grant also contains four projects, including those of Dr. Simpkins and Dr. Koulen. The project headed by Dr. Simpkins is a continuation of research on the use of non-feminizing estrogen to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The project headed by Edwin M. Meyer, PhD, at the University of Florida in Gainesville will work to develop nicotinic compounds to use as novel gene therapies for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The project headed by Michael A. King, PhD, at the University of Florida in Gainesville will study and develop the vectors for Alzheimer’s disease modeling and therapy.

“Each of the grant components is developing drugs or technology for their potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Simpkins said. “This program, unlike most academic programs, has resulted in, to date, two compounds being in clinical trials. That’s very unusual for an academic setting. And that’s one of the reasons that this program has been sustained, now for 14 years. We understand Alzheimer’s disease better. We understand better potential therapies, and we have delivered some of those drugs to clinical trials.”

This program project grant is the second program project grant that the department of pharmacology and neuroscience has received from the NIH. The first grant, which is ongoing, supports the study of the effects of normal aging on the brain. Dr. Simpkins and Dr. Koulen are part of that program project grant as well.

“There are probably only a dozen academic departments in the country that can make the claim that they have two program project grants,” Dr. Simpkins said. “So I think that’s an indicator of the national status of this department.”

According to Dr. Koulen, the infrastructure and support of the health science center have been integral to receiving the two program project grants.

“I think one of the reasons why this is possible is that we have highly interactive departments and researchers within departments, and we have an administration that encourages this kind of collaborative research,” Dr. Koulen said. With continued funding from this program project grant, Dr. Simpkins believes that eventually Alzheimer’s disease will either be prevented or cured.

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Contact: Kay Colley 817-735-2553, cell 817-980-5090, e-mail kacolley@hsc.unt.edu.

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