UT Southwestern scientist receives NIH Director's Pioneer Award

September 19, 2006

DALLAS - Sept. 19, 2006 -- Dr. Thomas Kodadek, chief of the Division of Translational Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has won a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, designed to support scientists of "exceptional creativity."

Dr. Kodadek is one of two scientists in Texas to receive the 2006 award, which honors each recipient with $500,000 per year for five years.

Now in its third year, the Pioneer Award has been given to 35 scientists. It is designed to allow researchers to pursue risky experiments that have the potential of producing highly innovative results. It is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which promotes interdisciplinary and innovative research.

Dr. Kodadek's research seeks substances that can diagnose and block specific immune responses without suppressing the entire immune system. This approach could one day be used to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, infection and other conditions.

"I'm pleased on several levels," said Dr. Kodadek, holder of the Julie and Louis Beecherl Jr. Chair in Medical Science. "One can do a lot of science on that kind of money, but obviously to be recognized in an elite group like that is really an honor."

Dr. Kodadek has drawn on his education in organic chemistry to create a vast collection of "peptoids" - molecules closely related to, but more stable than, the peptides that make up proteins. By arranging thousands of peptoids in a rectangular array on a microscope slide and washing blood plasma over them, the pattern of binding of the antibodies to the peptoids can then be visualized. By looking at samples from animals (and later patients) with a known disease, peptoids that bind antibodies closely associated with that disease can be recognized. This provides an unbiased method with which to search for diagnostically useful autoantibodies.

Knowledge of how those peptoids interact with antibodies might be harnessed to analyze or treat a specific disease, Dr. Kodadek said.

"As a diagnostic tool, this technique is quite promising," he said. "It's also conceivable that there's a pathway to therapeutics here. It might be that the disease-specific autoantibodies identified in this way are involved directly in the disease process and could be neutralized by the peptoid. This might provide a route to blocking particular antibody or T cell reactions selectively without touching anything else."

Over the five years of the award, Dr. Kodadek and his colleagues will simultaneously test the usefulness of peptoids as a diagnostic tool in humans and as a therapy in mice.

His work is an example of translational research, which links researchers and clinicians so that discoveries in the lab lead quickly to methods of diagnosing and treating patients.

"We are delighted by this recognition of Tom Kodadek and his work," said Dr. Greg Fitz, chairman of internal medicine. "Tom has been at the forefront of technological innovation aiming to move us closer to the goal of personalized medicine on the molecular basis of disease.

"He has a unique ability to bridge the gap between patients and science to make this happen. I expect that this is the first of many such awards."

Dr. Kodadek is also director of the UT Southwestern Center for Proteomics Research, one of 10 centers funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The center is dedicated to developing novel technologies for proteomics - the large-scale study of the structure and functions of proteins.

Dr. Kodadek received his bachelor's degree from the University of Miami. After receiving his doctorate in organic chemistry from Stanford University, he joined UT Austin as a faculty member. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 1998.

Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT Southwestern, received a Pioneer Award in 2004 and was the first recipient from Texas. His work focuses on genes that control the body's clock, regulating such processes as sleep, wakefulness and hunger.

The other 2006 winner from Texas is Dr. Cheng Chi Lee of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Eleven other winners were named from around the nation.
This news release is available on our World Wide Web home page at http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/home/news/index.html

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Dr. Thomas Kodadek - http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/findfac/professional/0,2356,32680,00.html

Dr. Greg Fitz - http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/findfac/professional/0,2356,62094,00.html

UT Southwestern Medical Center

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