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Award recognizes Niswender’s research achievements

Jan. 28, 2016, 9:53 AM

Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center whose work has helped advance understanding of diseases ranging from obesity to schizophrenia, is one of 10 recipients of the 2016 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Awards.

Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D.

The awards, announced last week by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, support the “breakthrough work of physician-scientists whose discovery research shows promise of advancing the standard of care,” officials said.

Niswender, associate professor of Medicine and of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, was recognized for development of novel compounds for diabetes, psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

Harrington Scholar-Innovators receive up to $700,000 in financial support. The exact amount is determined by a project review. They also receive drug development expertise and assistance from the Harrington Innovation Support Center.

“We are serious about accelerating cures and cultivating a network of physician-scientists across the nation and the world who are on the front lines of drug development,” said institute director Jonathan Stamler, M.D.

“We are humbled that the Harrington Institute recognizes the potential of our project, and are extremely excited that we will be able to access world-class expertise within the Innovation Support Center,” said Niswender, on behalf of his colleagues.

“This relationship will greatly expedite our efforts to generate useful experimental tools and potential therapeutics,” he said.

Niswender, with Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., and his wife, Colleen Niswender, Ph.D., in the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD), have been developing small molecule-based therapeutics targeting the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor.

The GLP-1 receptor is a highly validated target for the treatment of diabetes and obesity, but available injectable peptide-based medications are limited by significant side effects and difficulty attaining long-term adherence.

As an alternative, the Vanderbilt researchers are developing allosteric modulators, small molecules that can be taken orally and which can adjust receptor activity like the dimmer switch of an electrical circuit.

This work follows successful high-throughput screening with colleagues from the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology to identify initial allosteric modulators of this receptor.

Niswender’s group also is interested in determining the therapeutic potential of GLP-1 receptor modulation in the central nervous system, where it may have additional efficacy in treating obesity, depression, cognitive dysfunction and neurodegeneration.

Resources and support from the Innovation Support Center will help Niswender and his colleagues chemically optimize current lead compounds to support innovative basic science investigations into allosteric modulation of the GLP-1 receptor, with a particular emphasis on receptor modulation in the brain.

“The ultimate goal is to develop novel, safe and efficacious therapeutics appropriate for the treatment of chronic diseases that have a major impact on individual and population health,” he said.
Niswender, who earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt, has been a member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 2004. He is a member of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, and was elected a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation in 2013.

The Harrington Discovery Institute is part of the Harrington Project for Discovery and Development, a $250 million initiative launched in 2012 by a $50 million gift from the Harrington family of northeast Ohio.

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