From Ebola Tests to Leukemia Treatments, Ivy Grants Support U.Va. Research

February 09, 2015

A tool designed to diagnose Ebola quickly and cheaply could save countless lives, allowing for earlier isolation and care of patients while reducing future outbreaks. That’s exactly what University of Virginia researchers Zygmunt Derewenda and Daniel Engel hope to accomplish.

Working with researchers at the University of Chicago, Derewenda and Engel are trying to develop a new generation of reagents for detecting and typing the Ebola virus. Currently, detection of the virus takes up to six hours, costs roughly $100 per patient, and is dependent upon specific laboratory equipment that is not readily available in high-risk locations, including much of West Africa. The World Health Organization has called for new detection kits that are cheaper, provide readout in less than 30 minutes and require no more than two simple steps.

The science to support such a kit is complex, and that’s what U.Va. researchers are trying to tease out.

“Such kits may detect virus antigens in blood samples,” Derewenda said. “However, the monoclonal antibodies needed for this method are relatively expensive and not easy to obtain using traditional technology. We are pursuing an alternative strategy, in which synthetic antibody fragments are engineered to recognize a different target in the nucleoprotein.”

Derewenda and his team will be able to move forward more quickly thanks to $80,000 in funding from the Ivy Foundation Biomedical Innovation Grants. The grant program, created in 2008 by the Charlottesville-based Ivy Foundation, supports collaborative U.Va. research projects with the potential to yield leading-edge diagnostics and treatments for human health problems.

Grants are awarded by a committee composed of corporate researchers and venture capitalists and overseen by the Office of the Vice President for Research. Over the years, the program has awarded more than $1.86 million to 35 collaborative University projects, with each project receiving between $20,000 and $80,000, said Sharon Krueger, who directs the Ivy Foundation Biomedical Innovation Grant program. This year’s grants are made possible by $250,000 donated by the Ivy Foundation and matched by the U.Va. School of Medicine.

The 2014-15 grant recipients include:

  • John Bushweller, Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, “Small molecule inhibitors of CBFβ-SMMHC for the treatment of inv(16) leukemia”
  • Kevin Janes and Kristen Atkins, Biomedical Engineering and Pathology, “Evaluating the prognostic and therapeutic potential of growth-differentiation factor 11 for basal-like breast cancer”
  • Olga Cherepanova and Gary Owens, Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, Cardiovascular Research Center, “Development of an anti-oxidized phospholipid neutralizing antibody as an atheroprotective therapeutic agent”
  • Gordon Cates and Wilson Miller, Physics and Radiology, “Polarized Nuclear Diagnostics: A new modality for molecular imaging and spectroscopy”
  • Zygmunt S. Derewenda and Daniel E. Engel, Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology, “Design of New Generation of Reagents for the Detection and Strain-Typing of the EBOLA virus”
  • Brant Isakson and Linda Columbus, Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and Chemistry, “Targeting the hemoglobin a/eNOS complex for novel anti-hypertensives”
  • Christopher Stroupe, Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, “High-throughput screen for small-molecule inhibitors of autophagosome-lysosome fusion with therapeutic potential for treating cancer”

This year’s grant review board included Isai Peimer, managing director, MedImmune Ventures; Gerry Brunk, managing director, Lumira Capital; Kuldeep Neote, senior director of new ventures, Johnson & Johnson Boston Innovation Center; George Bloom, U.Va. professor of biology and cell biology; David Brautigan, U.Va. professor of microbiology, immunology and cancer biology; Silvia Blemker, U.Va. associate professor of biomedical engineering; Erik Hewlett, U.Va. professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases and International Health; and Michael Straightiff, director of U.Va. Licensing and Ventures Group.

Media Contact

Sharon Krueger

Program Director for Innovation Grants and Relationships Office of the Vice President for Research