New UCF researchers, college will help fight Alzheimer's disease, cancer


Researchers are part of new Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences

ORLANDO, July 30, 2004 -- A new college of biomedical sciences will dramatically increase the University of Central Florida's research aimed at helping patients who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, cancer and other illnesses.

The UCF Board of Trustees on Thursday, July 29, created the Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences and accepted a $10 million donation from Winter Park residents Al and Nancy Burnett to support the college.

UCF plans to increase the number of faculty members working in biomolecular sciences from 22 to 47 in the next few years. The college initially will have about 900 undergraduates and 75 graduate students who, along with faculty, will conduct research to find novel treatments for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and infectious diseases.

"This is a major step in strengthening UCF's commitment to cutting-edge research that will help patients who suffer from life-threatening diseases," said Pappachan Kolattukudy, who was appointed dean of the Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences. "We want to build a nationally recognized biomedical research and education enterprise at UCF."

Neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya, who arrived at UCF in the spring, hopes his research will show that taking stem cells from bone marrow in a patient's hip and injecting them into the brain can help fight Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's diseases, strokes and blindness. Sugaya previously taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In his prior research, which was cited in the Wall Street Journal this month, Sugaya determined that the memories of aged lab rats swimming in a maze dramatically improved when healthy stem cells were injected into their brains. In some cases, the older rats began to perform as well as young ones in the maze. Sugaya plans to continue using rats to test the viability of injecting stem cells into brains.

"This could be the fountain of youth if you can do it safely," said Sugaya, who is the founder of the biotech company New Neural. "We are investigating the safety aspect."

Another new researcher, YouMing Lu, is studying how to prevent neurons from dying and how to replace dead neurons in the brain with newly stimulated ones as therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and strokes. He previously taught at the University of Calgary.

Mark Muller, a professor of molecular genetics who last taught at Ohio State University, is studying enzymes known as topoisomerases that can kill cancer cells. Hoping to improve the quality of cancer-fighting drugs, Muller is trying to find out as much as possible about what causes the enzymes to target cancer cells.

Muller said he plans to work with a colleague at Ohio State to find out whether the effects they've noticed working with cells grown in lab cultures also show up in actual tumor cells. He also is beginning to study whether regulating levels of a protein called KIP through drugs could be an effective way to fight cancer.

Muller has founded several companies, including TopoGEN Inc., which is developing new compounds to fight cancer. The company is based in Columbus, Ohio.

Kenneth Teter, a cell biologist who conducted his post-doctoral research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center before coming to UCF, is researching ways to block the toxins that cause cholera, dysentery and other diseases from getting through cell membranes and into the cells, where they cause diarrhea and other health problems.

Learning how to best block that movement can help produce better drugs to fight those diseases, which are common in Third World countries, and other illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, Teter said.

The new researchers and expanding biomedical programs will give UCF a stronger foundation for a medical school as it investigates the need for one in Central Florida. An ongoing study will determine the viability of a medical school, for which UCF would need the approvals of the Board of Governors, the Legislature and the governor.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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