The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), awarded an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences $10.8 million to investigate the role of cell and tissue metabolism in rare and common diseases from cancer and diabetes to obesity and mitochondrial disorders. The five-year grant establishes the Arkansas Integrative Metabolic Research Center as an NIH-designated Center of Biomedical Research Excellence. The funding came to this Arkansas-based research collaborative based on the institution’s unique combination of expertise in advanced imaging techniques, bioenergetics and data science.
The Three Cores
The University of Arkansas’ unique expertise in three core areas helped attract this important NIH-based grant. Moving forward the center will benefit from the leadership of an interdisciplinary team of investigators led by Kyle Quinn, associate professor of biomedical engineering who will serve as the center’s director. The three research cores include:
∙ The imaging and spectroscopy core, directed by Narasimhan Rajaram, associate professor of biomedical engineering, will use multiphoton microscopy to provide non-invasive measures of metabolism in cells, tissues and animals. The core will also offer a variety of spectroscopy, confocal and wide-field imaging services.
∙ The bioenergetics core, directed by Shilpa Iyer, assistant professor of biological sciences, will provide guidance and services to measure various aspects of cellular respiration, using a live-cell metabolic flux analyzer. This core will also provide support for analyzing mitochondrial dynamics and oxidative stress in 2D-3D disease models, using flow cytometry and high content screening platforms.
∙ The data science core, directed by Justin Zhan, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, will provide support for advanced analytics, including various artificial intelligence approaches to understanding large imaging, metabolic, genomic and proteomic datasets.
In addition to these primary research cores, the center will have four research projects led by junior faculty members concentrating on different aspects of cell and tissue metabolism during tissue development and disease. These include:
- Young Hye Song, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who will evaluate the role of metabolism in tumor innervation and metastasis.
- Chenguang Fan, assistant professor of biochemistry, who will study the phosphorylation of enzymes involved in cancer metabolism.
- Adam Paré, assistant professor of biological sciences, who will study the relationships between cell signaling and mitochondrial dynamics, as tissues are formed during the development of multicellular organisms.
- Isabelle Racine Miousse, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who will evaluate the effect of dietary manipulation on cancer therapy.
Metabolic Research: Great Potential
Metabolic research encompasses a broad range of chemical reactions needed for the conversion of food and molecules to energy, the elimination of waste products and the conversion of molecules to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and carbohydrates. Work by the center’s researchers will focus on the whole organism, specific tissues, individual cells and organelles, such as mitochondria, which are known as the energy producing “powerhouses” of the cells. Explaining the complex relationships between metabolism and different disease states by using established bioenergetics assays, advanced label-free imaging technology and cutting-edge data-science approaches can help establish new treatment approaches for a variety of diseases.
Director’s Point of View
Professor Quinn recently shared his perspective for University of Arkansas News, stating, “Our center will support important scientific contributions not only in specific biomedical fields associated with metabolic diseases, but also broader contemporary research on metabolism, exploring issues such as the sensitivity of mitochondrial biomarkers to explain the onset and progression of rare and common diseases.” He continued, “Ultimately, the center will help cultivate a critical mass of researchers determined to solve multiple human health problems with metabolic underpinnings that have been particularly devastating in Arkansas and the southeastern United States, such as cancer, diabetes and obesity.”
Research Commercialization Opportunity
Innovations in clinical diagnostics and therapeutics developed by the center’s researchers will expand economic opportunities in Arkansas by establishing partnerships with existing technology companies in the state, creating new biotech startup companies in Northwest Arkansas and providing mentorship, training and employment to faculty, prospective students and biomedical technicians.
“The presence of this collaborative team of federally funded engineers and scientists in the areas of metabolic imaging and spectroscopy, bioenergetics and data science, is a unique attribute for the University of Arkansas,” said John English, vice chancellor for research and innovation at the U of A. “These strengths will allow our researchers to ask new and interesting questions involving fundamental aspects of cell metabolism and its role in disease and development.”
About the University of Arkansas
As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.
Call to Action: For commercial sponsors interested in partnerships, consider networking with vice chancellor John English.