Already-existing connections between the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy and the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Milan, Italy (UNIMI), have gotten a $10,000 shot in the arm from International Programs at the UI.
The Global Research Partnership Award will assist the project’s leaders in formalizing and expanding connections between the universities beyond even the pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy schools. The project’s principal investigator is Ethan Anderson, associate professor. Co-investigators are Dave Roman, professor, and associate dean; and Jonathan Doorn, professor, and department chair. All are in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics.
Eight years ago, while still on faculty at East Carolina University, Anderson began collaborating with a UNIMI medicinal chemist on a project to develop new therapies for diabetes, fatty liver disease, and other cardiometabolic disorders based on a unique amino acid called L-carnosine. This dipeptide has a very powerful neutralizing effect on reactive molecules that cause these diseases.
Collaboration between UI and UNIMI was further solidified last year when Anderson and Doorn hosted a senior PhD student from UNIMI for six months as a research scholar. Even though research activities were dampened by COVID-19 restrictions, the research enriched both labs.
“Many of the findings from his time with our groups last year were just published in Chemical Research in Toxicology in September,” Anderson said. “The major discovery was that L-carnosine is capable of neutralizing toxic molecules formed from neurotransmitter metabolism, and this has huge implications for neurological and cardiovascular disorders. More importantly, the work that Ettore [Gilardoni] did while here at the college has spawned several new projects among our graduate students and his expertise continues to be an asset for us.”
In addition, separately, Roman’s lab has been collaborating with a laboratory in the same department at UNIMI since 2018. This partnership was born after the Italian scientific group of Laura Fumagalli, associate professor, read about an incidental finding of Roman’s which came out of the college’s High Throughput Screening Facility. The finding, related to inhibiting calmodulin, informed her research group’s work. The two scientists’ research groups are still working together, in collaboration with partners at the UI Carver College of Medicine.
The idea to expand connections resulted from “creative thinking [to help] provide our students and faculty with access to expertise and instrumentation that simply do not exist here in our college or anywhere on the UI campus,” Anderson said. “This successful proposal will allow us to train the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists.”
The approach, down the line, will include more six-month exchanges of scholars similar to Gilardoni’s.
“We anticipate this partnership will bear fruit on multiple fronts that will place UI researchers from our college and beyond in a much more competitive position to obtain extramural funding from the NIH, DoD, NSF and the pharmaceutical industry,” Anderson said.
“The connections to be made will benefit both those in the basic sciences, as well as the clinical faculty within our college. In addition, this may open doors for international rotations for our PharmD students,” he added.
The excitement of the expanded partnership exists on both sides of the pond. Giancarlo Aldini, Anderson’s ongoing collaborator and Chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Milan, said: “Collectively, this enhances the overall research enterprise at our institutions and places us in a much more competitive position to obtain extramural funding. … We are off to a very productive start in this partnership already!”
The award was made possible through International Programs and the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization.