Fairlawn Foundation Supports Cutting-Edge Medical Research at WPI

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. The Fairlawn Foundation recently recognized the pioneering work of two Worcester Polytechnic Institute scientists with grants that will support continued research in clot-dissolver enzymes and in controlled drug delivery.

David Adams, associate professor of biology and biotechnology, has received a $57,633 grant for the synthesis of second-generation clot dissolvers and Alex DiIorio, research scientist and director of the Bioprocess Laboratory, 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.

"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," says GWCF Executive Director Ann T. Lisi.

A review of the WPI research supported by the recent Fairlawn Foundation grants follows.

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.

To date, the most effective way to limit damage to these organs is with clot-dissolver enzymes. The clot dissolvers currently approved for use in patients are "first-generation" or manufactured versions of those already occurring in nature. Unfortunately, these first-generation therapies have limitations bacterial streptokinase can cause anaphylactic shock and all are difficult to keep active in the blood stream, necessitating the use of large and expensive quantities of the drugs to remove the clot.

Adams is among the researchers who have been exploring genetic engineering, a modern field of biology, biotechnology and medicine that allows a highly precise alteration and manipulation of DNA encoding of any protein. He has applied these new techniques to the production of medically related therapeutic proteins, such as "second-generation" clot dissolvers. Because they are selective, more active and have fewer side effects than many of the medicines currently in use, they have striking implications for the health care industry.

Fairlawn Foundation funding will enable Adams to purchase the equipment he needs to continue the research at WPI. Adams is being assisted by several pre-medical graduate and undergraduate students. Adams expects to produce a new clot dissolver that is superior to its predecessors because of its increased activity, increased specificity for clots, increased time until degradation, fewer side effects and greater resistance to inactivation. The research is patentable. "Because these new, second-generation thrombolytic agents have a much longer half-life, less reagent is required to accomplish the same task, therefore the cost of the therapy to the patient is reduced substantially," says Adams.

Controlled drug delivery (time release) is important in the treatment of many diseases or chronic illnesses. Protocols requiring chemotherapy or the need for controlled release of ibuprofen for arthritis are examples. Time-release agents such as PGA have applications in the administration of growth hormone which, if delivered in measured, controlled doses can be given to pre-adolescents to prevent dwarfism, and to the elderly to maintain quality of life.

DiIorio has been studying the effective control of the chemical nature of PGA because it meets the requirements that identify effective controlled delivery compounds: it degrades slowly in the bloodstream in a predictable fashion depending upon the size or molecular weight of the compound, it is completely nontoxic, and it does not cause any allergic reactions. The Fairlawn Foundation grant will enable DiIorio to work toward purifying and characterizing the compound; to develop an improved production method to control its chemical properties--making the compound more versatile and effective; and to design an overall process that can be scaled up to increase production. DiIorio expects the processes to lead to at least one patent application on maximizing the effectiveness of this controlled delivery compound.

"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."

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is an independent technological university founded in 1865.