Discovery: UT Southwestern Finds Coronavirus Vulnerabilties, CPRIT Awards North Texans $21M for Cancer Research

In this weekly roundup of research and development activity in North Texas, you’ll read about a study led by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington that could lead to better treatment for osteoporosis, and the Center for BrainHealth seeking pilot phase participants.

research coronavirus UT Southwestern AI

Whats new, next, and reimagined in Dallas-Fort Worth ResearchEvery week, we do a little research of our own. We’re looking for scientists, professors, engineers, entrepreneurs—anybody, really—engaging in research and development across North Texas.

There’s plenty of good work being done. If you want to put R&D under your microscope, sign up for our e-newsletter.

UTSW scientists probe coronavirus’ genetic weak points

The coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people worldwide drew the attention of data scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, so they decided to analyze genetic sequences of the virus.

The medical center said the scientists have identified potential vulnerabilities in the virus that could help in vaccine development and further study of the infectious disease, now called COVID-19, that’s still spreading. The researchers point to areas where the viral genome encodes T cell and B cell antigens that could stimulate a response from the human immune system.


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Scientists compared those against the immunological maps of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) gathered in those coronavirus outbreaks, UT Southwestern said.

The scientists’ was posted this week prior to peer review.

“Few studies have reported on the immunological features of this new coronavirus. Our analyses in this respect could serve as a reference resource for immunological studies and for potential therapeutics and vaccine development,” Yan Xie, Ph.D., director of the Quantitative Biomedical Research Center (QBRC) and a professor of population and data sciences and in the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics, said in a statement. Scientists in China made the virus sequences available in January, according to UT Southwestern.

CPRIT awards $21M to aid cancer researchers, startups

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced that North Texas-based researchers are getting more than $21 million in awards from its latest funding round, the Dallas Morning News reported.

For example, three North Texas startups—Barricade Therapeutics Corp. of Fort Worth, Dialectic Therapeutics Inc. of Dallas, and Texas Magnetic Imaging Technology Inc. of Dallas—are each getting almost $3 million in product development grants from CPRIT.


READ NEXT North Texas Cancer Researchers and Institutions Reap $36M in CPRIT Grants


Also, CPRIT gave $1.137 million to Eric Olson, a renowned muscle disease researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, to back his work on targeted therapies for a soft tissue tumor in children and adolescents. CPRIT gave nearly $5.4 million to six other research projects at UT Southwestern. The institute also said that two cancer researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas will receive a combined $1.8 million.

UT Southwestern Medical Center will get $2 million to recruit Adam Durbin from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a tenure-track faculty position, and another $2 million to expand a colorectal screening program.

Barricade, an early stage pharmaceutical company, will use its $2,999,376 award for clinical trials of a colorectal cancer drug that selectively kills a gene present in more than 80 percent of patients. Dialectic is a pre-clinical biotechnology company that will receive $3 million for cancer drug development. Texas Magnetic Imaging will use its $2,997,384 to develop an imaging system for radiation therapy.

Other DFW cancer researchers receiving grants are:

    • Li Zhang, UT Dallas, $900,000;
    • Jie Zheng, UT Dallas, $900,000;
    • Changho Choi, UT Southwestern, $899,651;
    • Luke Engelking, UT Southwestern, $900,000;
    • Rodney Infante, UT Southwestern, $900,000;
    • Shuang Liang, UT Southwestern, $900,000;
    • Tiffany Reese, UT Southwestern, $900,000; and
    • Hasan Zaki, UT Southwestern, $900,000.

Last fall, Texas voters approved an additional $3 billion investment for cancer research and prevention, on top of an earlier $3 billion commitment. CPRIT has handed out $2.49 billion in grants to Texas research institutions.

UTA leads the way in identifying biomarkers for osteoporosis

Led by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington, a new multi-site study could lead to better diagnosis and treatments for osteoporosis, a common condition in aging.

The study puts a spotlight on a series of biomarkers in the blood as well as screening to detect them, UTA said.

UT Southwestern AI

Marco Brotto

Experts from UTA’s Bone-Muscle Research Center and the Shimadzu Center for Advanced Analytical Chemistry, as well as colleagues at three other major universities, authored the study that was published last month in Nature Communications Biology.

“Osteoporosis is one of the most common and devastating chronic aging conditions, as it commonly goes unnoticed until fractures occur,” Marco Brotto, professor of nursing at UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and director of the Bone-Muscle Research Center, said in a statement.

The research team developed a screening method to quantify the biomarkers, and showed the test’s clinical applications by using samples from women who have osteoporosis and those who don’t.

“One of our major goals during the study was to determine if we could we find biomarkers for osteoporosis that could help improve the diagnoses at an earlier time in life by using very simple methodology, such as blood or saliva samples,” Brotto said. “The applicability of this method may lead to significant advances in the detection and treatment of osteoporosis. In the future, we hope to continue and expand our research to include other populations.”

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging supported the project, along with Tulane University, Creighton University, and Indiana University.


READ NEXT Discovery: UTA Prof Gets $6.575M in Grants; UNT, University of Dallas Put Telescope Online


Last fall, we told you about how Brotto received a series of grants totaling roughly $6.74 million to back his work in finding better ways to take on a variety of debilitating musculoskeletal diseases.

Center for BrainHealth is seeking pilot phase participants

The Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas is enrolling participants for the pilot phase of The BrainHealth Project.

Participants will learn how the brain’s health and performance can be strengthened for lifelong, measurable improvements in productivity, decision-making, problem-solving, innovation, achievement, and well-being.

The pilot phase will be conducted through July with 200 healthy adults from the Dallas area who qualify for functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. 

If you’re interested, go here.

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