A&S Professor Leads Research Project as Part of NIH Award

By Alicia Gregory

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 3, 2020) — The University of Kentucky recently was awarded a Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant to study translational chemical biology from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. The $11.2 million grant will fund UK's Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Pharmaceutical Research and Innovation (CPRI).

This COBRE Phase 1 funding will provide campuswide junior faculty research and career development support, core infrastructure and pilot grants in the translational chemical biology research space. Critical infrastructure, in the form of cores, will support advanced research across UK campus: Chang-Guo Zhan directs the computational core; Mark Leggas directs the translational core; Linda Dwoskin directs the pilot program; David Watt directs the synthesis core (first developed under a previous COBRE grant for the Center for Molecular Medicine); and Tonya Vance coordinates the administrative core.  

Four early-stage investigators, mentored by teams of clinicians and scientists from a variety of disciplines, departments and colleges at UK, will lead major research projects. Among the four projects is “Gold-based pharmacophore synthetic strategies as a basis for transcription factor modulator discovery,” led by Samuel G. Awuah, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences.
“We believe that designing gold compounds with strong affinity for c-Myc oncoprotein will be a game-changer and provide significant potential to resolving a long-standing problem in chemical biology and biomedicine. Dysregulation of this protein is implicated in roughly 50% of cancers, particularly in leukemia, colon, medulloblastoma, and breast cancers,” Awuah said. 
Jon Thorson, a professor in the College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the principal investigator on this grant, serves as CPRI director. Thorson said the COBRE theme in translational chemical biology is “the nexus of chemical biology (the application of chemical biology principles to develop validated models to advance our understanding of biology) and pharmaceutical science (the application of pharmaceutical principles to advance materials and devices that address unmet clinical needs).”
"Our outstanding researchers at the University of Kentucky are leading the way in translational chemical biology, and the recently awarded COBRE grant is a testament to UK CPRI’s success in their constant pursuit of discovery," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "As Kentucky’s land-grant institution, we have a profound responsibility to serve and care for the Commonwealth. Because of the CPRI’s exceptional work, we can continue to find cutting-edge solutions to the problems that challenge Kentuckians the most.”
“We have benefited greatly by the NIH COBRE program, which has had an immense impact on the research infrastructure and support of junior investigators within a targeted theme,” said Lisa Cassis, UK Vice President for Research. “The CPRI NIH COBRE is well-positioned to augment the lead discovery and development objectives of many of UK’s outstanding translational research centers focused on disproportionate health challenges in the Commonwealth, continuing our legacy of these high-impact programs at UK.”
The College of Pharmacy center began in 2012, in partnership with the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Markey Cancer Center and the Office of the Vice President for Research. 
“CPRI has increased UK’s access to compound libraries, molecular modeling, virtual screening, assays, and other resources to ensure UK remains a leader in scientific discovery,” said Kip Guy, Dean of the UK College of Pharmacy. “Receiving the COBRE grant further demonstrates UK College of Pharmacy’s commitment to cutting-edge interdisciplinary and interprofessional science. With all of our colleges sharing one campus, we’re uniquely positioned to collaborate across the spectrum, ensuring our research stays relevant to the needs of Kentuckians.”
“This COBRE is an incredible incubator for scientific cross-cultivation and disruptive innovation — an outstanding set of fearless junior PIs with scientific training in diverse disciplines unified by their shared interests in the development, application and potential translation of novel molecular probes and tools,” Thorson said.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.


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