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Surinder Batra, professor and chairman of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Department of Molecular Biology, works on genetic challenges.

Courtesy photo/UNeMed Corp.

Researchers and resources from three University of Nebraska campuses are joining forces on a $250,000 proof-of-concept grant from the Nebraska Research Initiative, and use computer simulations to identify top drug candidates that could lead to the next generation of pancreatic and ovarian cancer treatments.

Surinder Batra, professor and chairman of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Department of Molecular Biology, is trying to prove the potential of what he discovered more than a decade ago — a gene called pancreatic differentiation factor 2, or PD2. The grant will pay for supercomputer simulations that researchers hope will demonstrate the potential power of PD2 against cancer.

PD2 is a factor in the growth of stem cells, but becomes a problem if it gives cancer cells the same set of growth instructions. Cancer cells that express high levels of PD2 act like stem cells, growing tumors that can resist most forms of treatment, according to a news release from UNeMed Corp., the company that transfers technology from UNMC to market.

Nick Palermo, a computer expert with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will try unlocking PD2's power with the supercomputer at the Peter Kiewit Institute's Holland Computing Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Palermo will build a computer model of PD2, and then simulate its interaction with millions of other known molecules. UNMC drug development researcher and College of Pharmacy professor Jonathan Vennerstrom will also collaborate on the project.

The grant for the PD2 project will also increase the supercomputer's "horsepower" to benefit future projects.

UNeMed said it has already received interest from drug discovery companies that want to collaborate on other new drugs using the same process.

"If this project works," said Joe Runge, UNeMed's director of business development, "then we can take discoveries about diseases and translate them to medicines — all within the University system."

The Nebraska Research Initiative is a state-financed competitive grants program administered by the University of Nebraska to encourage faculty research with strong potential to foster economic development.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or at Twitter@RichardPiersol


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