UTHSC professor awarded $5 million to explore gut as therapeutic target for disease treatment

Radhakrishna Rao, PhD, vice chair and professor in the Department of Physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center (UTHSC), received two major national awards totaling $5 million for separate studies involving the gut as a therapeutic target for the treatment of the disease. Dr. Rao is known worldwide for his two decades of research on the structure and regulation of the intestinal epithelium, which forms the intestinal barrier preventing allergens, toxins and pathogens from entering the bloodstream.

This month, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded Dr. Rao $2.5 million to study how acute radiation syndrome affects the gut microbiome and gut mucosal barrier function. Public exposure to radiation from large-scale incidents is a growing global concern. The gastrointestinal tract is one of the first organs injured by radiation, but there is no FDA-approved treatment for acute gastrointestinal radiation syndrome.

Dr. Rao and his team will work to determine how radiation alters innate gut immunity by suppressing the production of antibacterial peptides in the gut. They also aim to identify how supplementation with these peptides can prevent and treat radiation injury. This project will test and develop a new FDA-regulated drug that can be used in the event of public radiation exposure.

I believe the gut is a critical target for the treatment of many diseases, including acute radiation syndrome. Therefore, it is exciting to have this unique opportunity to explore intestinal innate immunity based on Paneth cells as a new therapeutic target to develop a treatment strategy to treat acute radiation syndrome. »

Radhakrishna Rao, PhD, Vice Chairman and Professor, Department of Physiology, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center

Earlier this year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism awarded Dr. Rao $2.5 million for a project to identify therapeutic targets to develop drugs to treat diseases associated with the alcohol. Dr. Rao and co-workers have identified certain calcium channels (TRPV6 and CaV1.3) in the intestinal epithelium that drive alcohol-induced endotoxemia and systemic inflammation by causing disruption of the intestinal epithelial junction and dysfunction. of the mucous barrier. The project will test how the coordinated activities of these channels mediate an alcohol-induced increase in epithelial cellular calcium leading to intestinal permeability and systemic inflammation. He will also assess the potential of calcium channel blockers to attenuate and prevent alcohol-induced endotoxemia and liver damage.

“Once again, the gut is the crucial therapeutic target for alcohol-associated liver disease,” Dr. Rao said. “I have no doubt that more evidence will emerge supporting the gut as a primary therapeutic target for many systemic diseases. Science is best accomplished through multidisciplinary approaches. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators with expertise in various disciplines.”

Dr. Rao also recently received the Veterans Health Administration Merit Review Award for studying the impact of chronic stress on alcohol-induced tissue damage on the gut-liver-brain axis.


University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center

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