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Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded $2.5 Million Collaborative Grant to Develop New Diabetes Treatment

JUPITER, FL – September 19, 2017 – Patrick R. Griffin, co-chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), has been awarded a $2.5 million collaborative grant with Brigham and Women’s Hospital by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The new five-year study seeks to confirm whether the inhibition of a particular protein that plays a role in regulating the body’s response to fat might be a viable target in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Griffin and Jorge Plutzky, MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are co-principal investigators for the five-year multi-PI grant. TSRI’s Theodore Kamenecka, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, is a co-investigator on the study.

“This new grant will let us focus on several lead candidates that inhibit a particular protein to confirm that this is a potential target to treat type 2 diabetes,” Griffin said. “These lead compounds came from a high-throughput screen run at Scripps Florida. Our strong preliminary evidence supports the idea of targeting fat directly.”

Griffin’s work covers a wide area of diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes to age-related bone loss. But they are all characterized by their impact on human metabolism – and the galaxy of disorders that more often than not occur in clusters: obesity, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

“What we are looking for – what we’ve always looked for – is using chemical biology approaches to create novel therapeutics for the treatment of metabolic disease,” Griffin said. “Our research efforts often complement others because in many metabolic syndromes, like obesity and diabetes, for example, the underlying aspects of the disorders overlap.”

What makes the new grant significant – and something of a milestone – is that Griffin now has five similar grants running simultaneously, several in collaboration with other institutes.

“Four of the five are highly collaborative, something we’re very good at – both within TSRI and with other research organizations,” he said. “It’s been one of the hallmarks of our research program.”

The latest study with Brigham and Women’s Health will focus on what is known as brown adipose tissue or brown fat, which serves as a kind of molecular furnace in humans, generating heat by burning large numbers of fat calories. Brown fat is loaded with mitochondria, the cell’s energy plant, which contain iron and give the fat its red-brown tint; mitochondria use nutrients to produce energy for the cell.

Brown fat is different than white adipose tissue (WAT), which stores energy and can lead to obesity. Studies have shown that brown fat characteristics can be induced in white fat through the inhibition of the protein retinaldehyde dehydrogenase 1 (ALDH1a1), which in turn protects against diet-induced obesity and diabetes.

The number of the grant is 1R01DK107239-01A1.

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 more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering or Medicine—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. In October 2016, TSRI announced a strategic affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), representing a renewed commitment to the discovery and development of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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