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K-State Today

December 18, 2017



K-State researchers collaborate on $200,000 in grants from Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute

By Joe Montgomery

Four out of five grants recently awarded by the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and the Hall Family Foundation involve researchers from Kansas State University.

The institute presented $250,000 in research funding to five different projects overall, with $200,000 supporting Kansas State University-connected projects. The 2017 Nexus of Human and Animal Health Research Grants award $50,000 per project to further the "Path to 2025" regional vision: "Kansas City is a global leader at the nexus of human and animal health benefiting all our citizens and the economy."

"The Hall Family Foundation has generously funded many innovative programs that support research and education in the greater Kansas City region," said Wayne Carter, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute. "We are very grateful the foundation is supporting these valuable research grants. Our region has significant strength in human and animal medicine, and there are many opportunities to advance research by looking at the nexus or intersection of diseases affecting both people and animals."

The following are this year's grant recipients from K-State and a brief description of their research projects:

• Kathryn Reif, assistant professor in the Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine, for a drug screening project to identify novel treatments against pathogens that infect the red blood cells of their animal host.

"Several socially and economically devastating diseases are caused by pathogens that infect the red blood cells of people and animals," Reif said. "Examples of pathogens that infect red blood cell include the disease agents of malaria in people and anaplasmosis in cattle."

Reif will develop and validate a test to screen large clinical drug compound libraries for novel therapeutics to control the pathogens that infect the red blood cells of cattle.

"The long-term goal for this research is to prevent or reduce disease, which is essential to maintaining healthy livestock populations," Reif said. "This project is tailored to cattle, but the pathogen drug screening test easily can be adapted to identify novel therapeutics for other red blood cell-infecting pathogens of human, veterinary, and agricultural importance."

The project represents a collaboration between Reif's laboratory at K-State along with Hans Coetzee, departmental chair of anatomy and physiology and interim director of the Nanotechnology Innovation Center of Kansas State and Institute of Computational Comparative Medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Anuradha Roy, director of the High Throughput Screening Laboratory at the University of Kansas.

• Weiping Zhang, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, for the development of a combination vaccine targeting three major pathogens in the intestines.

"Diseases in the intestines are a major cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world," Zhang said. "These diseases often are caused by bacteria entering the body through the mouth and can lead to malnutrition and delayed development in children. The leading causes of these diseases in the intestine are the bacteria Shigella, salmonella and E. coli. Salmonella is also the leading cause of foodborne illness and of hospitalization and death due to foodborne illness worldwide."

Zhang is working with Wendy Picking at the University of Kansas to create a vaccine that will meld three vaccine technologies to develop a multi-agent combined vaccine to protect against Shigella, E. Coli, and salmonella.

• Majid Jaberi-Douraki, assistant professor of mathematics at the Institute of Computational Comparative Medicine, and Jim Riviere, professor emeritus with the College of Veterinary Medicine, for 1Data, which is a platform for mining shared data that can accelerate drug development for people and animals.

"Working together across species and organizations to improve human and animal health will help enhance research and ultimately improve the lives of all species," Jaberi-Douraki said.

Jaberi-Douraki and Riviere have been collaborating with Gerald Wyckoff of the University of Missouri at Kansas City. They have used regional strengths to develop this platform and will continue expanding the 1Data database, testing the framework against a set of predetermined metrics, and deploying a product that will be a key regional and global asset to advance translational research.

"The 1Data platform can be used by researchers, industry, health provider, and community organizations to impact the drugs and technology available to help save lives and improve the quality of life for humans and animals," Jaberi-Douraki said. "This platform also can enhance the regulatory approval process, decrease the use of animal models in-silico virtual animal populations, and serve many other uses to advance research and technology."

• Richard Todd*, associate professor of plant pathology, will research fungi that produce bioactive compounds with harmful or beneficial effects on human and animal health. He will investigate the links between primary metabolism, which produces metabolic precursors, and the regulation of secondary metabolism.

"A barrier in identifying how to prevent production of harmful compounds or identifying novel beneficial metabolites is an understanding of how the biosynthesis of these compounds is regulated," Todd said. "Activating production of these secondary metabolites at will would open up a vast storehouse of fungal compounds of great potential value in human and veterinary medicine."

Todd’s project will use a member of the fungal family Aspergillus, which are known to synthesize huge numbers of bioactive compounds. Large gene clusters orchestrate the production of these compounds. The key features of the proposal are to determine the role of nitrogen sources and primary metabolism regulators in secondary metabolite gene expression and to understand how the regulatory factors TamA and McrA work together to govern gene expression. The project is a collaborative effort between the Todd laboratory at K-State and Dr. Berl Oakley at KU.

Information about the other recent Nexus Grant, plus background on eligibility, review criteria and application procedures, can be found on the Kansas City Life Are Life Sciences Institute's website.

*This is a corrected version of the original story, which omitted Todd. K-State Today regrets the error. 

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