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Massive Computer Platform, Electric Fish Net Scientists Eureka Grants

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two scientists at Ohio State University have earned specialized grants from the National Institutes of Health that fund unconventional projects that have the potential to significantly advance research.

One project involves taking advantage of the special properties of cells in electric eels and rays to generate and study membrane proteins considered potential drug targets in a variety of human diseases.

Rene Anand Metin Gurcan

The other initiative is the creation of a huge computer-based platform to store and analyze data from a national study of osteoarthritis – a platform that could later be applied the study of other major diseases, as well.

The recipients of the so-called EUREKA grants are Rene Anand, professor of pharmacology, and Metin Gurcan, assistant professor of biomedical informatics, both in the College of Medicine.

EUREKA stands for Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration. The federal grant program, established in 2008, is designed to help investigators test novel hypotheses or tackle major methodological or technical challenges. Anand and Gurcan are among the recipients of the second round of awards.

Anand will explore ways to re-engineer the electric organs of electric eels and rays to generate proteins that are difficult to obtain from humans for the study of diseases. Conditions involving membrane proteins include mental health disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as heart disease and cancer.

The design of drugs that can target membrane proteins requires atomic-level knowledge about their structures – but even after decades of trying, scientists have had a hard time obtaining enough of these proteins to conduct the necessary structural studies.

The animals’ cells that generate electricity to stun their prey are full of membrane proteins. Anand will use these specialized cells to try to manufacture foreign human membrane proteins in sufficiently large amounts for structural studies.

 He will receive almost $1.37 million across four years for the project, which he will conduct with Gregg Wells, a biophysicist from the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Gurcan specializes in biomedical informatics, a field devoted to managing the massive amounts of data generated by health sciences research.

For example, the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI), for which Ohio State serves as a clinical center, has devoted seven years to collecting information on almost 5,000 people considered at risk of developing osteoarthritis. The information includes knee images, performance measures of specific movements, medication histories and genetic data.

Gurcan intends to develop biomedical informatics tools that will allow scientists to look at all the OAI data in a comprehensive way. Such a platform will allow researchers to see relationships among different data results that they otherwise would not be able to see.

The OAI data will further be combined with all existing research literature on osteoarthritis to develop an even more comprehensive data bank of information about the disease, which is the No. 1 disabling condition among older adults.

Gurcan will receive almost $1.2 million for the two-year effort, which he hopes can be used as the basis for development of similar comprehensive data banks for other diseases.

More information about the grant program is online here: http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Research/Mechanisms/EUREKA.htm

To see a list of all EUREKA grant recipients, go to:http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Research/Mechanisms/EUREKAGrants.htm


Contact: Rene Anand, (614) 292-1380; anand.20@osu.edu or Metin Gurcan, (614) 292-1084; metin.gurcan@osumc.edu

Written by Emily Caldwell, (614) 292-8310; caldwell.151@osu.edu