- Burnett School College of Medicine
The week of February 23 was a research trifecta for UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences as three faculty members received grants for their efforts to treat and cure diseases ranging from cancer to cystic fibrosis.
“We have really outstanding faculty at Burnett who work extremely hard,” said Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School. “Receiving these grant awards – all within a few days – reflects these terrific qualities in our faculty. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we’re capable of accomplishing.”
News about these successful grant applications from four different national organizations arrived over several days that week:
- Cristina Fernandez-Valle, a professor, received a $770,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense with a sub-contract with UCLA’s Department of Head and Neck Surgery to validate drug targets for Neurofibromatosis (NF), a disease that causes tumors to grow on the nervous systems of its victims. The disease attacks the body’s Schwann cells, which are part of nerves in the body. That leads to multiple tumors that can cause deafness, facial disfiguration and severe pain. The DOD grant will help Dr. Fernandez-Valle further analyze drug targets she developed with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the College of Medicine’s Lake Nona neighbor. She also received a $130,000 contract from the Children’s Tumor Foundation to work as part of a research consortium that will conduct drug screenings for Neurofibromatosis Type 2.
- Annette Khaled, associate professor, received a $250,000 grant from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The grant will fund her work into developing new technologies that treat metastatic cancer cells. Such cells are often a death sentence for patients, because they spread cancer to critical organs like the brain, liver and bones. There currently is no sure-fire way to track all the moving cells and to stop their spread. Dr. Khaled has discovered that peptide CT20 kills cancer cells and is particularly effective at killing fleeing cells. She is working with UCF colleague Dr. J. Manuel Perez, who specializes in chemistry and nanotechnology, to create a system that safely envelopes Dr. Khaled’s killing agent, tracks escaping cells, then locks onto those cells and releases the CT20 cancer killing agent only to the infected cells.
- Kyle Rohde, assistant professor, received a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to investigate Mycobacterium abscessus (Mab), an incredibly strong, drug-resistant bacterium that causes serious lung infections in patients suffering from Cystic Fibrosis. That hereditary disease causes patients to produce excessive mucus, which compromises their ability to fight lung pathogens. Dr. Rohde’s research so far has focused on tuberculosis, second only to AIDS as the greatest infectious disease killer worldwide. In 2013, 9 million people suffered from tuberculosis; 1.5 million died from the lung disease. The grant will expand Dr. Rohde’s research to see what makes Mycobacterium abscessus (Mab) so resistant to antibiotics and to test compounds that may be successful in killing the bacterium. Because Mycobacterium abscessus (Mab) causes similar infections to tuberculosis, the two are often misdiagnosed. Dr. Rohde hopes the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation grant will help identify drugs that might be effective for both.
Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UCF College of Medicine, applauded the grants, saying “this is a time when we are focused on growing the research program. Our faculty are embracing the challenge and their success shows the increasing strength of our faculty to compete for the ever shrinking research dollar.”