Arkansas Colleges of Health Education receives first NIH grant for enzyme research

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,137 views 

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) will receive its first national grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). The three-year award totals $323,628, and it will be under the purview of Dr. Lance Bridges.

NIH is a chief funding source for human health and disease research nationally. Bridges serves as the chair of biochemistry, molecular, and cell sciences at the Fort Smith-based Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM). Dr. Brandy Ree, an assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular, and cell sciences at ARCOM will serve as a co-investigator for the study.

The NIH-funded project will focus on the regulation of enzymes, proteins that speed up the rate of biological processes. As normal enzyme activity is critical for viability and health, disrupted enzyme regulation is the cause of many diseases.

“Specifically, the loss of regulation of enzymes, known as ADAMs, culminate in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease,” Bridges explained. “This project investigates an unexplored way to regulate ADAM function that will provide new avenues for therapeutic development in diseases associated with aberrant enzyme activity.”

Criteria for grant selection included having undergraduates involved in the research. According to Bridges, ARCOM has had students working in the lab from Ouachita Baptist University, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS), and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In addition to paying stipends to the undergraduate students, the grant also will fund a full-time laboratory technician. The lab tech role will be to oversee the daily operations of the laboratory, including ordering supplies, maintaining scientific equipment, safety records, and conducting experiments under the direction of the researchers.

Undergraduate students have already spent time in the lab performing their own experiments and maintaining lab records. They will continue to do so, and they will be presenting their findings at regional or national conferences. Funds will be used for the stipends, the full-time position, and student travel to conferences. There will be no additional costs incurred by ACHE, and no equipment will be purchased as everything needed has been funded by ACHE.

Dr. Kenneth Hensley, chair of the research committee at ARCOM, called the grant award a “monumental occasion for ARCOM to receive its first national NIH grant with one of our faculty members as the lead researcher. This grant establishes the fact that ARCOM is a sound investment and we are generating and disseminating new knowledge to the medical field.”

Dr. Ross Longley, associate dean of preclinical medicine and research, said Bridges was “an example of the type of high-caliber faculty that have been recruited to ARCOM.”

“Dr. Bridges’ success in obtaining research dollars from NIH speaks to the recognition of his scientific expertise by his colleagues at the national level, and Arkansas Colleges of Health Education’s development of a state-of-the-art research facility to support his and other faculty research efforts,” Longley added.

The study will not be Bridges’ first associated with NIH. He conducted an NIH-funded post-doctoral fellowship in the field of morphogenesis and regenerative medicine at the University of Virginia. He received his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and has held faculty positions at the University of Central Arkansas and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, where he was a member of the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute.

His research interests entail a novel regulatory mechanism for the ADAM (a disintegrin and metalloprotease) family of enzymes and delineating the mechanism of action of retinoids, natural and synthetic vitamin A derivatives, in the treatment of cutaneous lymphoma.

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