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Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded $1 Million Grant to Develop New Tools for Hepatitis C Treatment Discovery

 JUPITER, FL, April 4, 2012 – Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have been awarded just over $1 million from the National Institutes of Health for a three-year study to develop new high-throughput screening tests to find compounds that disable a protein essential to hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication.

Timothy Tellinghuisen, a Scripps Florida associate professor, is the principal investigator for the study.

Hepatitis C is a slow-progressing disease that causes inflammation of the liver and affects some 170 million people worldwide, according to the Hepatitis Foundation International. Like the current approach to HIV/AIDS, a cocktail-based therapeutic approach, which uses multiple inhibitors targeting distinct aspects of the HCV life cycle, has emerged as one of the most promising.

In the search for new treatments against HCV, it has become critical to develop novel targets to attack. Tellinghuisen's new research is focused on a potentially potent, but somewhat neglected, enzyme. This protease—an enzyme that breaks down proteins—is known as NS2, which is necessary for productive infections that produce new viruses and spread the infection among cells.

"The NS2 protein is needed for hepatitis C infections, but is poorly understood," Tellinghuisen said. "The new grant will help us develop potential chemical tools to look at the role of NS2 in HCV biology because we really don't know how the protein works."

Some recent studies suggest that the NS2 protease may be involved in altering gene expression in the host cell and in helping the virus defend against apoptosis or programmed cell death, in addition to the more direct roles for the protein in viral replication and particle assembly.

Tellinghuisen and his colleagues have already developed a small-scale screen to identify compounds that disrupt viral replication through NS2 protease activity.

"Our overall goal is to turn our small-scale NS2 assay into an assay appropriate for high-throughput small-molecule screening," he said, noting that would give the team access to the more expansive Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN) screening center program at Scripps Florida.

MLPCN is a collaborative research network that uses use high-tech screening methods to identify small molecules to investigate the diverse functions of cells; Scripps Research is one of four large national centers.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 2,700 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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Timothy Tellinghuisen, a Scripps Florida associate professor
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images/tellinghuisen_tim/tellinghuisen_tim.jpg