NSF Awards Grant To Study Influenza Inhibition
The National Science Foundation has granted $150,000 to Alma College for research that could eventually lead to the development of more effective drugs to treat and prevent certain kinds of influenza, including human infections of swine and avian flu.
The three-year grant through the NSF’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program will involve both faculty and students in the synthesis of a new generation of neuraminidase inhibitors that principal investigator Jeff Turk believes will provide new information to guide the future development of antiviral drugs.
“It’s very refreshing to know that external agencies like the NSF are interested in funding undergraduate research,” says Turk, assistant professor of chemistry at Alma. “Although the likelihood of finding a cure for cancer, HIV or even avian flu at an undergraduate institution may not be high, these kinds of grants are significant because of the contributions to science that we can make, coupled with the invaluable impact on student learning. It’s very exciting.”
Jeff Turk works with students in his chemistry lab.
Most drugs created for influenza target neuraminidase, a protein found on the chemical surface of the influenza virus. Until recently, it was thought all neuraminidase proteins were structured the same, resulting in the development of drugs like Tamiflu for treating all forms of influenza.
However, researchers are now finding structural differences in the neuraminidase proteins found in a group of viruses that include the swine and avian flues. The H1N1 virus, or swine flu, and H5N1 virus, or avian flu, are characterized by their neuraminidase group 1 structure (N1).
“With this new information on the different structures of the protein, scientists can now develop inhibitors that target specific influenzas,” says Turk. “That could result in the development of better and stronger drugs for treating, for example, potential pandemic influenzas like swine and avian flu.”
Turk has designed a series of small molecules that have shown by computer modeling to have the potential to bind on the neuraminidase protein and inhibit the influenza infection. Over the course of the NSF grant, Turk and his students will synthesize and evaluate the molecules in the laboratory.
“This project provides an opportunity for students to get involved in important laboratory research,” says Turk, who joined the Alma College chemistry faculty in 2006. “It allows them to not only explore the structural differences between the neuraminidase proteins through synthesis, but also to immerse themselves in the design and testing phases of biochemical research.”
Students will work with Turk and project collaborator Joe Beckmann, professor of biochemistry at Alma College. Beckmann will assist students in evaluating the binding effectiveness and mechanisms of the synthetic molecules.
“At the end of three years, I plan to have screened and analyzed all the synthetic targets we have proposed that potentially will teach us more about neuraminidase and neuraminidase inhibition,” says Turk.
Students who have worked with Turk on neuraminidase inhibitors include April 2009 graduate Joye Kallgren of Trenton, senior Chris Duymich of Simi Valley, Calif., and junior Ryan Spitler of Grand Rapids.
The grant will provide funding for travel, materials, supplies and stipends for faculty and students.
Posted: Thu, August 6th, 2009 at 8:50AM