Pitt Team Gets $13.9 Million Grant Renewal for Radiation-Exposure Countermeasures

Issue Date: 
October 11, 2010
Joel GreenbergerJoel Greenberger

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have been awarded $13.9 million over five years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue developing small molecule radiation protectors and mitigators that can be easily accessed and administered in the event of a large-scale radiological or nuclear emergency.

In 2005, NIAID’s Center for Countermeasures Against Radiation program granted $10 million over five years to Joel Greenberger, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Pitt, and his team of researchers with the University’s Center for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation.

“With our previous funding, we dedicated our time to exploring the mitochondria―the energy generator of all cells―and developing drugs that could counteract damage caused by radiation exposure,” Greenberger said. “We proved that targeting small molecules to the mitochondria was a successful approach. With our current funding, we hope to accomplish a variety of goals, including gene identification for targeted therapies and finding a new approach to the development of radiation mitigators. We also hope to develop strategies to deliver the drugs quickly and intelligently to block mitochondria ‘wrong-doings’ that could lead to massive cell death after a nuclear event.”

Previous funding supported research examining several potent mitigators of radiation damage, including new classes of chemicals and known natural compounds. Greenberger’s team, in conjunction with a team of chemists led by Peter Wipf, Pitt Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, aided in the development of JP4-039, a drug that assists the mitochondria in combating irradiation-induced cell death.

In addition, according to research from Greenberger’s laboratory, resveratrol, the natural antioxidant commonly found in red wine and many plants, proved to protect cells in mouse models from radiation when altered by a process called acetylation.

“Our work is truly a multidisciplinary effort in which the combined expertise and knowledge of biochemists, clinical researchers, chemists, pharmacologists, and pharmacists led to the successful development of novel protectors and mitigators against irradiation damage,” Greenberger said.