The Hartwell Foundation


Inaugural Biomedical Research Collaboration Award

Memphis, TN, August 18, 2008 -- The Hartwell Foundation officially announced the first winners of a Biomedical Research Collaboration Award, which will provide funding to expand the frontiers of early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge applied biomedical research through special collaboration. Andrew Pieper, MD, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Guoping Feng, Ph.D., Duke University will receive $260,000 in combined direct cost over three years to pursue their proposed research for "Rapid Discovery of Small Molecules for Drug Development in an Animal Model of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder."  The Hartwell Foundation currently funds both researchers individually, as 2006 Hartwell Investigators. Duke University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are both among The Hartwell Foundation’s 2008 Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research.

In groundbreaking research funded by The Hartwell Foundation, Dr. Feng has described a novel mechanism for the pathogenesis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). His unintentional introduction of OCD into mice was generated by a unique gene mutation that altered neuronal transmission, leading to an unprecedented opportunity to explore effective treatments for the disorder.  Simultaneously, in a separate research project also funded by the Foundation, Dr. Pieper has demonstrated an innovative and facile approach for screening small drug-like molecules in a mouse model of schizophrenia, using a unique chemical compound library located at UT Southwestern. 

"The ultimate goal of the proposed collaboration is to develop more effective treatment for OCD and related psychiatric disorders that severely affect children. We propose to combine the expertise and interests of our two laboratories to conduct an innovative means of rapid drug discovery that might not otherwise be possible if we were working alone," said Guoping Feng, Ph.D.

"Unlike conventional drug screens, which deploy binding or cell based assays in vitro, our collaborative approach hopes to identify compounds that are both pharmacologically active and non-toxic in living animals, quickly elevating promising candidates for OCD drug development to a very early stage of discovery," said Andrew Pieper, MD, Ph.D. 

"The combination of expertise and resources by the two co-investigators at these outstanding institutions leverage a powerful platform to identify novel drug candidates, not only for potential treatment of OCD, but possibly other related psychiatric disorders, as well," said Frederick Dombrose, Ph.D. and President of The Hartwell Foundation. "Should Pieper and Feng prove successful in discovering compounds effective for OCD-like behaviors, it will set the stage for their further collaboration to seek long-term federal funding and support from biotech and pharmaceutical companies for translational research, in the hope of ultimately developing such compounds into specific medications for the disorder," he added.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the most common and debilitating psychiatric disorders. It affects 2-3% of the U.S. population, with approximately half of patients experiencing onset of their illness during childhood or adolescence. This devastating disorder is characterized by persistent intrusive thoughts, repetitive actions and excessive anxiety. The symptoms of OCD can be unreasonable, irrational, and significantly compromise personal functioning. The neurobiological basis of this disorder is currently not well understood. Tragically, there is a void of specific and effective treatment options for patients with OCD, particularly in children. Current medications for the disorder are often only marginally effective and frequently associated with substantial and undesirable side effects. Other poorly understood, difficult to treat and incapacitating disorders that share clinical features with OCD, include: transient and chronic tics (Tourette’s syndrome), compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania), obsession with self-appearance (body dysmorphic disorder), and hypochondria. Some features of OCD may also be present in autism spectrum disorders.

2006 Hartwell Investigator Andrew Pieper, MD, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

2006 Hartwell Investigator Guoping Feng, Ph.D., Duke University

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