Pilot Projects


Augmenting Targeted Nanoparticle Delivery in Melanoma

PI: Matthew Hayden, MD, PhD

Viable anti-cancer nanomedicine strategies depend on specific and efficient delivery to tumor cells. In most cases, intracellular delivery is also required or advantageous. The cytokine receptor Fn14 undergoes robust, constitutive, and ligand independent internalization and trafficking to the lysosomes and has been shown to be highly expressed on a variety of solid tumors. In melanoma, as in several other tumors types, the expression of Fn14 protein is quite variable. As a result, strategies to target tumor cells through Fn14 would only be effective in those patients with Fn14 high tumors. We have identified a key pathway responsible for the regulation of Fn14 protein levels, through which we can manipulate Fn14 expression and also the delivery of cargo coupled to Fn14 binding molecules. We are investigating the use this approach to increase the efficacy and utility of anti-Fn14 agents for the delivery of anti-tumor nanomedicines.

On Demand Control of Myelin Generation and Plasticity

PI: Robert Hill, PhD

Animals sense and react to their ever-changing environments through neuronal electrical signals that travel over long distances in the body. These signals must arrive successfully at their target in a precisely timed manner. To accomplish this the nervous system has evolved an elegant structure called myelin which insulates neurons and radically increases the speed and efficiency of these electrical signals. Myelin is produced by cells called oligodendrocytes and, unlike any other cell in the adult cerebral cortex, oligodendrocytes are continuously generated from a resident progenitor cell population called NG2 glia. The persistence of NG2 glia in the adult brain provides an endogenous source of new oligodendrocytes which can be coopted for myelin repair after acute injury or in chronic disease. Recent advances in the genetic engineering of a specific class of receptors allows activation of distinct signaling pathways exclusively in cells expressing these modified receptors.  We will build on these approaches and combine them with techniques we recently developed for intravital optical time lapse imaging of oligodendrocytes and myelin to test the possibility that activation of these pathways within the oligodendrocyte lineage will permit on demand control of myelin generation and plasticity. This study has the potential to uncover a new approach for precise manipulation of myelin generation with direct applications to human disease.

Engineering Immunogens to Focus the Immune Response on Broadly-Neutralizing Dengue Epitopes

PI: Chris Bailey-Kellogg, PhD
Co-I: Margaret Ackerman, PhD

Dengue virus causes hundreds of millions of human infections each year. There are four co-circulating dengue serotypes; primary infection by a single serotype results in febrile illness and subsequent lifelong immunity to that serotype, while secondary infections by heterotypic serotypes can lead to severe disease and even death. Severe dengue disease is likely caused by cross-reactive antibodies elicited during primary infection that can bind multiple serotypes but not neutralize them, instead facilitating viral entry into Fcγ receptor positive cells and thereby yielding “antibody-dependent enhancement“ (ADE) of infection. We propose to use structure-guided protein engineering to develop novel immunogens that focus the immune response so as to elicit broadly protective antibody responses avoiding ADE. In particular, we target two critical epitopes, the E glycoprotein domain III (DIII) and the E dimer interface (EDE), which are sites of binding by broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs).

Target Validation Against Bacterial Pathogens

PI:  Ekaterina Pletneva, PhD
Co-I:  Deborah Hogan, PhD

Many bacterial pathogens of humans have cbb3 oxidases terminal oxidases with high affinities for O2 that enable microbes to compete for O2 in the host, particularly in the microoxic settings associated with infections. In Pseudomonas aueroginosa (Pa), cbb3 oxidases are essential for fitness of the biofilm communities, and they are highly expressed by bacteria during chronic infections in cystic fibrosis. Because cbb3 oxidases, and the proteins that they interact with, are unique to bacteria and have several distinct features from those of mammalian oxidases, these enzymes are attractive drug targets for potential antibacterial therapies. Development of such drugs requires mechanistic understanding of these enzymes. We have identified two critical elements of the Pa cbb3-dependent respiratory pathway: the delivery of O2 under microoxic conditions by the O2 carrier hemerythrin (Hr) and the delivery of electrons for cbb3 catalysis by the electron carrier cytochrome c4 (cyt c4). The goals of this pilot project are to get key preliminary data on the mechanisms by which Hr and cyt c4 interact with cbb3 oxidases and to explore the possibility of targeting them in drug design.

Identification of the Biological Target and Mechanism of the Nuphar Alkaloids

PI:  Jimmy Wu, PhD

6-hydroxythiobinupharidine, a member of the dimeric nuphar alkaloids, induces apoptosis in human leukemia cells faster than any known small molecule.  Despite this, there exist only three published papers that attempt to elucidate how these molecules work.  Yoshikawa et al. provides some evidence that the nuphars operate via the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis, while Gopas determined that the nuphars may inhibit NFkB.  Unfortunately, both Yoshikawa and Gopas failed to carry out critical experiments to rule out alternative interpretations of their data.  In contrast, our own preliminary investigations suggests that the nuphars operate via the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis and may, in fact, not inhibit NFkB.  Our data, along with the unprecedented rate of cell death, may be indicative of a new biological target and/or mechanism of apoptosis.  Therefore, there is a clear need to determine the target and mechanism of action of the nuphar alkaloids.  Our long-term goal is to create and characterize novel compositions of matter that have the capacity to perturb previously undescribed protein targets and/or mechanisms of apoptosis.