January 20, 2011

VU, Scripps partner to advance science

VU, Scripps partner to advance science

Vanderbilt University and The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have formed a partnership to advance science at the interface of chemistry and medicine.

The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will encompass research and training activities at the Vanderbilt Institute for Chemical Biology (VICB) and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and at TSRI's San Diego, Calif., and Jupiter, Fla., campuses.

Special emphasis will be devoted to the areas of drug discovery, personalized medicine and metabolomics, referring to the study of small molecule metabolites that could lead to diagnostic and therapeutic biomarkers.

“The chemical sciences provide the basis for current understanding of human physiology, pharmacology and drug discovery,” Scripps Research President Richard Lerner, M.D., said in an announcement last week.

“Yet there remains a gulf between academic research in chemistry and medical practice. The time is right for a new initiative that seeks to accelerate the understanding of human chemistry in health and disease.”

“The goal of the Human Chemical Sciences Institute is to impact medical care through a chemistry-focused view of the human metabolic state, disease and the effects of treatment,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

The new institute will combine Scripps Research's expertise as a powerhouse in synthetic and bioorganic chemistry, the strength of both institutions at the interface of chemistry and biology, and Vanderbilt's recognized leadership in drug discovery, genomics, bioinformatics, and medical systems innovation. Seed funding from both Scripps Research and Vanderbilt will be used to promote cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary research partnerships that capitalize upon these strengths.

The three focus areas will be led by the following individuals:

• Metabolomics — Gary Siuzdak, Ph.D., senior director of the Center for Metabolomics at Scripps California, and Alex Brown, Ph.D., VICB associate director of Systems Analysis at Vanderbilt;

• Drug Discovery — Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., director of Medicinal Chemistry for the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery, and Patrick Griffin, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at Scripps Florida; and

• Personalized Medicine — Daniel Salomon, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at Scripps California, and Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine at Vanderbilt.

“The complementary strengths of TSRI and Vanderbilt University will facilitate collaborative interactions among their faculty,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences at Vanderbilt, who helped organize the institute.

“The Human Chemical Sciences Institute will promote research and training activities that reflect the fundamental commitment of both partner institutions to translate basic scientific discoveries into improved outcomes for patients,” she said. As such, this unique enterprise “likely (will) become a model for similar initiatives elsewhere.”

“This is a very exciting initiative between two institutions with very similar cultures and complementary strengths in chemical biology and translational medicine,” added VICB Director Lawrence Marnett, Ph.D.

Both Vanderbilt and Scripps Research have received Clinical and Translational Science Awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve human health through clinical and translational research, and both are major players in the search for potential drugs and biomarkers through the NIH-supported Molecular Libraries Probe Centers Network.

In addition, Brown said, “both institutions have made major investments in mass spectrometry instrumentation, recruited leading researchers and built state-of-the-art centers in Proteomics and Metabolomics that have helped define the leading-edge of the technology.

“This partnership … will extend the use of mass spectrometry in the identification of biomarkers in human diseases, facilitate drug discovery of novel targets, and further the use of cellular metabolites in tailoring therapeutics,” he said.

For more information, go to www.vanderbilt.edu/scripps.