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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 3, 2008

Davidson awarded new NIH grant for 'high-risk, high-reward' research

Beverly Davidson, Ph.D., the Roy J. Carver Biomedical Research Chair in Internal Medicine and professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Roy. J and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, is among the first group of scientists chosen to receive a EUREKA award from the National Institutes of Health.

The new funding program, called EUREKA for Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration, aims to support exceptionally innovative research that could have a large impact on many areas of science. In this first round of funding, 38 scientists will share $42.2 million for projects that test new, often unconventional hypotheses or tackle major methodological or technical challenges.

Davidson, who also is a UI professor of neurology and molecular physiology and biophysics, will receive approximately $200,000 per year for up to four years to develop an RNA-based strategy for getting material into the brain without the need for a direct injection.

Delivering therapies to the brain is difficult because the blood-brain barrier prevents many substances from crossing from the bloodstream into brain tissue. However, preliminary work from Davidson's lab has shown that certain RNA-based molecules, injected into the tail vein of a mouse, could reach the brain. Davidson hopes to build on this approach, in collaboration with James McNamara, Ph.D., UI associate in internal medicine, to deliver RNA-based molecules to targeted areas of the brain.

"Billions of different RNAs can be generated that naturally fold into various structures, some of which can bind to a variety of cell surface proteins or other cell surface material," Davidson said. "We plan to develop these and test their ability to reach different types of brain cells following delivery into mouse vessels. If we are successful, this approach could be a significant advance in developing brain-targeted therapies and could find broad use in the scientific community."

NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., said in a statement, "EUREKA projects promise remarkable outcomes that could revolutionize science. The program reflects NIH's commitment to supporting potentially transformative research, even if it carries a greater than usual degree of scientific risk."

Davidson's project is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a component of the NIH. NINDS awarded five EUREKA awards in this first round of funding.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917