TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Drawing upon expertise from across campus, a new center at The University of Alabama will help overcome obstacles keeping drug therapies that show promise in the lab from translating to an effective treatment for patients.
The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama recently approved forming the Center for Convergent Bioscience and Medicine with research dedicated to developing novel therapies for immuno-inflammatory diseases by adopting an integrated approach combining innovative drug delivery strategies with new drug-discovery and drug-repurposing.
Part of the Alabama Life Research Institute, the center plans to capitalize on emerging opportunities to grow a life science research base focused on developing new drug delivery systems. It will be positioned to leverage UA’s unique focus on rural health and family medicine through the College of Community Health Sciences, boosting the number of graduates prepared to meet the growing demand for advanced-level research and development in an evolving pharmaceutical industry.
“CCBM’s research will contribute to improved quality of life while educating students to become leaders of the next generation of drug discovery and delivery,” said Dr. Sharlene Newman, ALRI executive director. “It will strengthen efforts in this area already underway on campus and complement work done across the state in the area of bioscience and translating preclinical outcomes to deliverable therapies in clinical settings.”
Biomedical science is one of ALRI’s core research themes. ALRI is a university-wide institute that serves as a focal point for interdisciplinary biopsychosocial research that seeks to investigate the human condition at all levels, from the molecular to the environmental, with the goal of improving the lives of the people of Alabama and beyond.
The new center will be led by Dr. Ravi Kumar, Distinguished University Research Professor in the College of Community Health Sciences with an adjunct appointment in the College of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Kumar is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of nanoscience and nanomedicine, which broadly aim to deliver drugs more effectively to the body using particles that are one-billionth the size of a meter.
Kumar’s team currently leads more than $5 million in sponsored research projects, including four top-tier grants from the National Institutes of Health, one of which was recently awarded to study nanomedicine treatment for acute kidney injury.
“Success at the highest international level crucially depends on the availability of a dynamic multidisciplinary research team in a state-of-the-art research environment, which UA provides,” Kumar said. “CCBM’s approach of tackling immuno-inflammatory diseases is highly interdisciplinary in nature and will pave the way for investigators to fully exploit new developments in genome and proteome research for drug discovery in the 21st Century.”
The 10 leading causes of death before the pandemic in the United States and Alabama can be classified under the immuno-inflammatory umbrella such as such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. Although short term inflammation is critical for survival of physical injury or infection, chronic inflammation that stems from social, environmental and lifestyle factors can lead to severe diseases that may result in a weakened immune system.
Traditional drug discovery and development for new medicines to treat immuno-inflammation involves basic biomedical research that uncovers potential biotargets for drug action followed by applied research to test candidate products for effectiveness and safety. However, novel approaches are needed to address the widening gap between basic scientific discovery and successful clinical trials so more lab successes translate into healthier outcomes for humans. CCBM is positioned to utilize vast STEM expertise to bridge the gap for better translation.
Kumar’s group has pioneered a drug development process that draws upon multiple analytical, physical, organic, and biological chemistry techniques combined with materials science and engineering principles to design drugs more effectively in the lab that increase success in clinical settings.
The new UA center will be partners with translational medicine research at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Southern Research and others while also cultivating relationships within the state’s $7.3 billion biomedical industry to help spur job creation and economic development as well as innovation that helps patients.