NIH awards grant to conduct genetic drug research on cancer and heart disease

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A Virginia Tech chemist has been awarded a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research that will aid in the development of new heart disease and cancer medicines that have fewer side effects.

Theresa Reineke, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Science, was awarded an NIH New Innovator grant, which is designed to fund research that is in its earliest stages and holds potential for exceptionally high impact.

Reineke's research group is creating carbohydrate-based polymers for the delivery of genetic drugs to combat both cancer and heart disease. The newly developed molecules can travel into cells, deliver genetic drugs, and carry a tracking ability so that scientists can follow its movements in living systems. Her research was featured in Oct. 6, 2009, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/09/23/0904860106.abstract).

"This grant will allow us to gain a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in the delivery of polymeric drug carriers for both illnesses," Reineke said. "These studies will ultimately lead to the development of medicines that are more specific to their disease targets and therefore are less toxic to other parts of the human system."

Synthetic polymers that are compatible with biological systems are playing important roles in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases, Reineke said.

"Understanding how biomaterials interact with and affect living systems is one of the most important and fundamental problems in biomedical research," she said.

NIH New Innovator Awards are designed to stimulate highly innovative research and support promising new investigators. According to the NIH, many new investigators have exceptionally innovative research ideas, but not the preliminary data required to fare well in the traditional NIH peer review system.

Reineke joined the chemistry faculty in 2008 and is a member of the university's Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute. Her grant is one of only 55 to be awarded a total of $131 million in New Innovator Awards. Among some of the other institutions receiving funding were Duke, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, and the Cleveland Clinic. New Innovator Awards are among three sets of NIH grants that address promising emerging research and are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Reineke earned a master's degree from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Among her many other recent awards are: a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, Sigma Xi Outstanding Young Investigator Award, Beckman Young Investigator Award, Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.

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