Scientists win $1.2 million to advance therapies for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease


IMAGE: The new project will be led by Scripps Florida's Associate Professor Theodore M. Kamenecka and Professor Patrick R. Griffin.

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Scripps Research Institute.

JUPITER, FL – February 3, 2016 – Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been awarded nearly $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a series of drug candidates that advance more effective treatments for a range of conditions, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and muscle atrophy.

The three-year project will be led by Scripps Florida's Associate Professor Theodore M. Kamenecka and Professor Patrick R. Griffin.

The team will focus on drug candidates that affect a family of medically important molecules known as nuclear receptors, which regulate gene expression in response to signals from various binding partners, including estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormone and retinoic acid (vitamin A). First discovered in the 1960s, 48 nuclear receptors have been identified in humans.

However, a number of these receptors, called orphan receptors, have no known activator molecule or the identity of the activating molecule is controversial. Among these orphan receptors are estrogen-related receptors ERRα, ERRβ and ERRγ. These are the topic of the new research.

"While we're looking at all three protein receptors," Kamenecka said, "we want to focus on ERRγ because it's closely associated with tissues such as heart, kidney, brain and skeletal muscles. Our goal is to optimize our current series of synthetic ERRγ activators for potency and selectivity to advance our ongoing study of the receptor's role in various diseases."

Previous research has shown that animal models genetically engineered to lack ERRγ exhibited decreased capacity for exercise and mitochondrial function in muscles compared to normal. In contrast, models with increased expression of ERRγ showed greater oxygen consumption, treadmill endurance and mitochondrial function and were resistant to diet-induced weight gain.

"Using the unique resources at Scripps Florida and the integration of chemistry and biology, we are confident we will develop selective activators (often referred to as modulators, as these molecules alter the gene program that nuclear receptors modulate). If we are successful, several Scripps Florida colleagues have expressed interest in using our ERRγ modulators to study muscle function and exercise capacity in the context of aging," Griffin added. "We're looking at a wide range of compounds to modulate this receptor's activity in beneficial ways."

The number of the grant, awarded by the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is 1R01HD087046.


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