Stefan Strack, University of Iowa professor of pharmacology and pathology, recently received a $275,000 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) and today (Monday, Dec. 1) was named a winner of GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) 2014 Discovery Fast Track Challenge, which is designed to accelerate the translation of academic research into novel therapies.

“We are very excited about these awards. The NINDS grant will allow us to explore how mitochondria regulate normal brain function, while the drug discovery project with GSK may lead to new medicines that improve brain health,” said Strack.

The NINDS Exploratory/Development Grant (R21) Program supports research projects in areas of brain and nervous system disorders to reduce the effects of neurological disease. NINDS is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Strack’s two-year grant, titled “Outer Mitochondrial PKA and PP2A in Neurodevelopment and Plasticity,” runs through August 2016.

Mitochondria are important in Strack’s research because the organelles create energy. They take in nutrients, break it down and produce energy rich molecules for cells to use. 

Abnormal mitochondrial function contributes to brain injury and disease. How mitochondrial signaling affects normal brain development, however, is poorly understood, so Strack and co-investigator Yuriy Usachev, UI associate professor of pharmacology, aim to examine the effects of mitochondria in the brain.    ]

Their teams will examine the neuronal connectivity, plasticity, and learning and memory in models that lack PKA/AKAP1 or PP2A/Bbeta2, two signaling proteins with opposing effects on mitochondrial shape and function.

Results may lead to better treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and brain injury.

Strack’s was one of 14 winning proposals in the GSK challenge, chosen from 428 entries from 234 universities and academic institutes in 26 countries. Strack will work with scientists in GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) and the Molecular Discovery Research teams to test their hypotheses and screen targets against GSK’s compound collection.

Launched in the UK in late 2010, DPAc is a new approach to drug discovery that enables academics to marry their scientific excellence with the drug discovery insight of GSK. For Discovery Fast Track projects that progress to full DPAc programs, GSK and the academic collaborator share the challenges and rewards of innovation; GSK provides drug discovery expertise and in-kind resources as well as funding activities in the partner laboratories to progress a program from idea to candidate medicine.

“We believe there is a real advantage in bringing together the best in academia and industry to help take innovative ideas forward in drug discovery,” said Duncan Holmes, European Head of DPAc. “The Discovery Fast Track Challenge is designed to find the best ideas for collaborative drug discovery from any therapeutic area, in any geography. We look forward to working with each of the winners to help identify novel quality pharmacologically active compounds for their targets and being part of the researcher’s journey in making a difference."

Read the GSK release at http://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/2014/gsk-names-winners-of-2014-discovery-fast-track-challenge/.

Strack received his Ph.D. in biology and his M.S. in computer science at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

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