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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center announced today a venture partnership with Vital Health Interventions, LLC, which includes a five year research grant totaling $2.65 million. The grant will support promising research, led by Pennington Biomedical’s Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D., with a goal of developing a drug to prevent or reverse diabetes. Vital Health Interventions will have an option to license new technology or discoveries that emerge from the research.
The new research partnership is the result of Dr. Dhurandhar’s longstanding work in identifying and understanding Ad36, a human adenovirus, that induces obesity, but with a puzzling phenomenon. Dr. Dhurandhar explains, “Typically, obesity triggers conditions such as fatty liver disease as well as insulin resistance, leading to type 2 diabetes. However, in the instances of obesity caused by this viral infection, glucose and insulin levels actually improve.” In recent work, Dr. Dhurandhar has isolated a protein of the virus that may be responsible for improving insulin levels and reducing fat accumulation in the liver.
“This specific project represents Pennington Biomedical’s world-renowned expertise in understanding the triggers of chronic diseases,” said Pennington Biomedical Research Center Executive Director Steven Heymsfield, M.D., at the reception announcing the partnership.
The Vital Health Interventions grant provides funding for new research aimed to develop a synthetic or chemical drug which could harness the property of the viral protein to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes or fatty liver disease. Dr. Greg Reinhart, vice president of Vital Health Interventions, stated “We are very excited to join Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s efforts in this important and unique research endeavor. It is an exceptional opportunity to discover new treatment options for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.”
In cell studies performed previously by Dr. Dhurandhar, E4orfl, a protein derived from the Ad36 virus, was shown to improve glucose handling, similar to the action of insulin. The new grant will support additional research aimed at understanding the molecular mechanism involved in the action of E4orfl. Dr. Dhurandhar’s team will seek to develop a chemical that simulates the effect of E4orfl. While substantial work needs to be conducted in mechanistic and animal models, successful completion of these goals would make the drug ready for human studies in the future.
Dr. Dhurandhar noted that “Improvement in diabetes or fatty liver requires a reduction in obesity and strict dietary controls – which of course is very challenging for many individuals. If the action of Ad36 on diabetic animals is any indicator, we believe that this drug will improve diabetes and fatty liver independent of obesity, or without requiring a reduction in high fat food.” Dr. Diane Hirakawa, president of Vital Health Interventions, added, “The medical and social benefits resulting from this work have the possibility of being immense. We look forward to working with the scientists at Pennington to uncover novel treatment therapies for these devastating diseases.”
Dignitaries speaking at the announcement included Dr. John Lombardi, president of the LSU System, and Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer, Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical’s more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.