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January 2007 Issue
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Maria Diaz-Meco, PhD, and Jorge Moscat, PhD, study cell signaling pathways related to prostate cancer.
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New GRI Recruits Impressed by UC's Collaborative Spirit

By Dama Ewbank
Published January 2007

Jorge Moscat, PhD, and Maria Diaz-Meco, PhD, are two of the Genome Research Institute’s (GRI) newest recruits.

And although the duo came to UC from the Spanish National Research Council—a major research organization similar to the National Institutes of Health—they say they aren’t any less busy.

Their research—the two study what happens at the molecular and cellular levels in mice with asthma, cancer or obesity—is moving fast. So fast, they say, they anticipate testing, or “validating,” drug targets for asthma and prostate cancer on the GRI’s new high-throughput screening system by this time next year.

Moscat and Diaz-Meco have a strong interest in immunology—particularly inflammatory responses like asthma. Knowing that exposure to allergens can lead to asthma development, the researchers are investigating what’s happening at the cellular level when allergens are present.

They and their coworkers are studying how T-cells (white blood cells that aid in immunity) differentiate, or change, into more specialized immune-response cells called TH2s. When a few specific genes in mice are “knocked out,” T-cells differentiate poorly to TH2.

Moscat and Diaz-Meco found that when TH2 cells are not generated efficiently, and when an allergen is present, mice develop asthma less frequently. Their findings have led them to two specific asthma-drug targets that they’ll soon test against a multitude of chemicals.

The link between cancer and inflammation is another hot topic, says Diaz-Meco, and their lab is working with a mouse protein called Par-4 that, when inactivated, leads to the development of tumors—particularly lymphoma-like lesions and abnormal cell growth in the prostate.

Because Par-4 is part of an inflammatory pathway, the Diaz-Meco/Moscat lab is trying to unravel how inflammation might be involved in the development of prostate cancer. They see Par-4 as a potential drug target for the creation of anti-cancer therapies.

The lab’s focus on cancer, inflammation and metabolic disorders falls right in line with the College of Medicine’s areas of emphasis—and much of that work is already under way at the GRI. In fact, it was the opportunity for close collaboration with UC scientists that drew Moscat and Diaz-Meco to Cincinnati from their posts in Madrid.

“Where we were in Spain was very big and almost too diverse in terms of the types of research going on,” says Moscat, a professor in the genome science department. “Because of that, most of our collaborations there were external.”

Moscat and Diaz-Meco, associate professor of genome science, were happy to see that the majority of researchers at the GRI—all right around the corner or down the hall—were potential collaborators.

Their move to Cincinnati required the recruitment of an additional eight people for their new laboratories at the GRI—a 360,000 square-foot facility in Reading, Ohio, that has filled up quickly since its opening in 2003.

George Thomas, PhD, interim chairman of the department of genome science and interim GRI director, says Moscat and Diaz-Meco and their team are helping every day to raise the level of investigation in Cincinnati.

“Their own research, and their interest in the work of their new colleagues, truly puts them at the cutting edge of basic science and translational medicine,” he says.

Translating Research
To test their asthma and prostate cancer targets, the Diaz-Meco/Moscat lab will use UC’s new high-throughput screening technology—purchased by the Third-Frontier-funded Computational Medicine Center.

Installed at the Genome Research Institute in October, this $2.8 million screening system will allow researchers from UC, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and around Ohio to quickly screen drug targets against large quantities of chemical compounds.

As a result of this collaboration to enhance drug discovery locally, the developer of the screening system, Evotec-Technologies, set up its U.S. operations in Cincinnati to provide ongoing support.


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