Biochemists at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) and The University of Colorado who are researching a small yet beneficial molecule known as adenosine to treat certain acute/chronic diseases have been awarded a Program Project Grant (PPG) of nearly $10 million by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. It is a 5-year grant that will run through May 31, 2018.
When adenosine production is stimulated, it triggers events that increase blood flow and oxygen levels to promote healing. This is beneficial for acute injuries requiring extra blood and oxygen to heal. However, it also creates challenges with chronic conditions, because too much adenosine can result in excessive inflammation and tissue remodeling, a process known as fibrosis.
Each leading researcher conducted their projects of adenosine-based therapies. Michael Blackburn, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UTHealth Medical School, focuses on adenosine signaling in lung disease. Yang Xia, M.D., Ph.D. of the UTHealth Medical School, runs a project on sickle cell disease, and Holger K. Eltzschig, MD, Ph.D. of the University of Colorado, concentrates on acute kidney injury.
Lung disease research is particularly important because there are no cures for many of these diseases, and now many drug companies are starting to develop and promote adenosine-based therapies for potential clinical trials, according to Blackburn. Xia’s sickle cell disease study will assess the role of adenosine signaling in red blood cells following tissue injury, and also will check its potentiality as a pathogenic biomarker correlated to disease severity in sickle cell disease patients. Eltzsching’s lab tries to provide new approaches to treat acute kidney injury, which is defined as the rapid loss of kidney function, using adenosine.
“Our challenge is to figure out how to manipulate adenosine levels for the benefit of a variety of conditions,” Blackburn said. “By combining our expertise and efforts, we hope to develop adenosine-based therapies for lung disease, sickle cell disease and acute kidney injury.”
The researchers will run the tests on the four receptors of the adenosine molecule to see if those receptors can be changed to alter adenosine signaling, and whether that affects the course of disease. Future clinical tests in humans with those diseases will be conducted after studies in animal.