Fairlawn Foundation supports cutting-edge medical research
The Fairlawn Foundation recently recognized the pioneering work of two WPI scientists with grants that will support continued research in clot-dissolver enzymes and controlled drug delivery systems.
David S. Adams, associate professor of biology and biotechnology, has received a $57,633 grant for his work on the synthesis of second-generation clot dissolvers. Alex DiIorio, research scientist and director of the Bioprocess Laboratory in Salisbury Laboratories, received $38,000 from Fairlawn for the use of poly-glutamic acid (PGA) as a time-release drug delivery agent.
The Fairlawn Foundation was established in 1991 with proceeds from the sale of Fairlawn Hospital, which was established in 1921 by Worcester's Swedish community. The foundation supports innovative activities in the Worcester area that have a continuing impact on health care. Administered by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Fairlawn Foundation is dedicated to improving the practice and delivery of medical and allied health care services; supporting the health care-related education of Worcester-area residents; and providing support to public and private organizations that have specific, well-defined applications or proposals to improve or expand the quality of health care in the Worcester area.
According to GWCF Executive Director Ann T. Lisi, "These research grants to David Adams and Alex DiIorio at WPI through the Fairlawn Foundation promise to have a major impact on health care treatment and delivery--in Worcester and beyond."
"It is important that the research methods developed at universities serve society by addressing medical problems," says Ronald D. Cheetham, professor and head of the Biology and Biotechnology Department. "With the generous support of the Fairlawn Foundation, the cutting-edge research of two of our biotechnology labs can focus on solving a current medical problem while training graduate students."
Here is a brief look at the two projects supported by the recent Fairlawn Foundation grants:
- Making a better clot dissolver
Heart attacks and strokes are the most common cause of death in developed nations. In most cases, these diseases are caused by the accumulation of plaque on the walls of arteries and veins (atherosclerosis), which eventually leads to the formation of blood clots that block the flow of blood to the heart or the brain.
Currently, the most effective way to limit damage to these organs is with the rapid administration of clot-dissolving enzymes. The clot dissolvers currently approved for use in patients are genetically engineered versions of enzymes that are produced by the body to clear away clots that result from normal activities like sitting or walking. Manufactured in mammalian cell cultures, these "first-generation" therapies have limitations (bacterial streptokinase, for example, can cause anaphylactic shock). In addition, because the body works to quickly deactivate clot-dissolving enzymes, it is necessary to administer large and expensive quantities of the drugs to remove the clot.
In his research, Adams is developing second-generation clot dissolvers that are at least as effective as those currently in use, but which are less likely to be broken down by the body--thus requiring smaller doses to be effective. The Fairlawn Foundation funding will enable Adams to purchase the equipment he needs to continue this work. With the assistance of a team of graduate and undergraduate students, Adams says he expects to produce a new, patentable clot dissolver that is superior to its predecessors because of its increased activity, increased specificity for clots, increased time until degradation, fewer side effects, or greater resistance to inactivation.
"Because these new, second-generation thrombolytic agents have a much longer half-life in the body, less reagent is required to accomplish the same task," he says, "Therefore the cost of the therapy to the patient is reduced substantially."
- Fine-tuning a time-release agent
The controlled delivery of drugs (also known as time release) is important in the treatment of many diseases and chronic illnesses. The administration of certain chemotherapy agents and the use of ibuprofen to alleviate arthritis are examples of treatments that benefit from controlled drug delivery.
In his research, DiIorio has been working with a time-release agents known as polyglutamic acid or PGA. DiIorio says PGA's chemical characteristics make it a good candidate for a controlled delivery compound: it degrades slowly in the bloodstream in a predictable fashion, it is completely nontoxic, and it does not cause any allergic reactions.
With the Fairlawn Foundation grant, DiIorio will work to purify PGA and better characterize its chemical structure. Using these results, he plans to develop an improved method for producing the compound that will enable researchers to manipulate its chemical characteristics and produce a more versatile and effective time-release agent. The final step will be developing a manufacturing process that will permit the new production method to be run on a commercial scale. DiIorio expects at least one patent application to result from this research.
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