Center for Peptide Neuropharmacology
University of Utah.
A. To coordinate and implement research in the field of peptide neuropharmacology. The proposed Center will function first and foremost as a research center; the success of all other goals is dependent on the excellence and scientific impact of its research activities. The general research program will be centered on key signal molecules that provide the mechanistic basis for rapid information transfer and modulation in the nervous system: the receptors and ion channels found on the surface of neurons. A major experimental strategy to understand the function of these signal proteins is the use of specialized peptide "ligands," which are chemicals that bind and alter the function of their target receptors and ion channels.
A particular emphasis will be on research related to neuroactive Conus peptides, an experimental system developed by the proposed Center faculty. Conus peptides are increasingly being utilized by laboratories worldwide as precision tools for understanding the nervous system in both health and disease. Furthermore, these compounds are being developed as highly efficacious medicines for a range of neurological and other medical disorders. This Center will coordinate, focus and accelerate the progress of this research and development. This will be accomplished, in part, through encouragement of cross-college multidisciplinary research projects that seek to foster the interaction of University of Utah researchers on central campus and the Health Sciences Center.
B. To mentor and provide research training for undergraduate and graduate science students. The Center will provide a conduit for undergraduates to do basic and mechanistic research, with a window on potential medical applications. This is a notable opportunity to educate the best science undergraduates on the value of basic research to society. The research of the Center also provides an unusual opportunity for graduate students who seek Ph.D. thesis work involving a broad spectrum of multidisciplinary biomedical disciplines.
C. To facilitate and develop private and public funding sources, contracts and grants for peptide neuropharmacology.
D. To develop and utilize Conus peptide technology for pharmacological, diagnostic and therapeutic applications in conjunction with the University of Utah Research Foundation and the Technology Transfer Office.
E. To provide educational outreach to explore novel interactions with nonacademic groups. In addition to its research/mentoring goals within the University, the Center will initiate educational activities targeted outside the University community. Two target groups will be the initial focus of these efforts: the first is elementary school students in Utah; the biological/biomedical aspects of Center research are amendable to presentation to these grades. These activities will be coordinated with the Utah Museum of Natural History's Outreach programs. A second group to be targeted is the informed collector/("conchologist") community: there is an enormous interest among conchologists in cone snails, the source of peptide ligands. Increasing the general scientific awareness and mobilizing this community to be optimally integrated with the Center's scientific research involving the marine organisms is the general objective, and to encourage and organize their participation in Center research activities. It is felt that the underlying biology (predatory venomous snails that hunt fish and kill people) and biomedical aspects (drugs that alleviate pain and have potential anti-epileptic uses) are both ideal for attempting to instill increased scientific awareness and interest in these target groups.
F. To optimize University links to the public. It is a major challenge to explain to the public the special role a research university plays. Because of the unusually easy-to-appreciate nature of the research in the Center, and the highly visible undergraduate participation, the Center could provide a prominent University component in illustrating to the people of the State of Utah, to legislators and state government officials a unique aspect of the educational enterprise at the University of Utah. A goal of the Center is to help establish in the public's mind a concrete link between quality undergraduate and graduate education and the essential role of research in a top-flight university.