U Pharmacy Researcher Awarded $5.7 Million to Sudy Heparin, Other Carbohydrates

U Pharmacy Researcher Awarded $5.7 Million to Sudy Heparin, Other Carbohydrates

Nov 22, 2011 11:24 AM

SALT LAKE CITY—Millions of people take the anticoagulant Heparin to prevent blood clots. But the carbohydrate from which the medication is derived has other potential roles, and a University of Utah College of Pharmacy researcher has landed a $5.7 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to learn how the molecule functions at the vascular level and whether it holds the promise of providing more medicinal benefits.

Kuberan Balagurunathan, Ph.D., associate professor of medicinal chemistry, will use the seven-year grant to study the heparin molecule role in the vascular system, including how it influences diseases and inflammation, which researchers are linking to more and more health problems. Like a growing number of researchers, he also believes new anticoagulants may be derived from heparin or other carbohydrates.
“Carbohydrates have not been well-studied, but a lot of researchers believe there is much potential for their use in medicine,” Balagurunathan says. “They carry a lot of information, but the details aren’t worked out at the molecular level. In our study, we want to define the vascular function of heparin.”

Balagurunathan received the grant as part of $17 million the NHLBI, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded for a program project that will be jointly studied at seven institutions: Harvard Medical School, University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Texas at Galveston, University of Maryland, Washington University, and the U of U. The money was awarded as part of NHLBI’s Programs of Excellence in Glycosciences.

While the focus of his study is learning about heparin’s vascular role in heart, lung, and blood diseases, Balagurunathan also has two other important goals for his grant project:

•    Increase the number of scientists trained in carbohydrate research
•    Bring together clinicians, chemists, and other basic scientists to study carbohydrates

“We have few scientists researching carbohydrates,” he says. “This grant mandates hands-on training for young carbohydrate scientists.”

By training more carbohydrate researchers and partnering with clinicians and basic scientists, Balagurunathan and the other national researchers hope their study findings will be translated into clinical use to benefit patients.

Chris M. Ireland, Ph.D., dean of the pharmacy college, said Balagurunathan has established himself as an expert in carbohydrate research and that he’s confident his research will produce new anticoagulants. “The importance of his research is illustrated by the major public health catastrophe created in 2008, when contaminated heparin was inadvertently released into the world market resulting in a multitude of deaths and serious injuries,” Ireland said.

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