Two professors in the college of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith have received grants totaling more than $74,000 from the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) to advance undergraduate research at the university.
Dr. Souvik Banerjee, assistant professor of organic and medicinal chemistry, applied for and received a grant for $38,250 for a research proposal entitled “Tubulin Polymerization Inhibitors for the Treatment of Resistant Metastatic Mela.” Dr. Mohammad Halim, assistant professor of chemistry, received $36,341 for his research project “Structure-Guided Design of Antiviral Peptides Against SARS-CoV-2.”
“This grant will promote research culture at UAFS, introducing interdisciplinary research experiences to undergraduate students, helping them to learn the broad spectrum of computational and experimental techniques, and gain skills on collaborative.” ” Halim said. “These diverse research experiences in computational chemistry, peptide synthesis and characterization, native MS, ITC and NMR will also help students pursue graduate studies in biomedical sciences or secure positions in the pharmaceutical and biochemical industries.”
Dr. Halim is currently mentoring more than 15 undergraduate and high school students in research and hopes to provide cutting-edge training to an interdisciplinary research team of culturally diverse students who will be able to present research results through conferences and published articles. He will be joined on this project by undergraduate students Sydney Du and Honey Matevia. Both students are experienced in peptide design and mass spectrometry related to this project and received awards for their research presented at the Arkansas INBRE 2020 virtual conference in November.
Dr. Banerjee’s project aims to develop independent research in the field of small molecule drug discovery targeting cancer based on his Ph.D. and postdoctoral training experience. For next two years, he aims to mentor undergraduate students in active scientific research, running an independent research project in tubulin polymerization inhibition, eventually establishing consistent externally funded research projects in the small molecule therapeutics, targeting the colchicine binding site, for the treatment of resistant cancers, including melanoma and developing a project employing the tubulin polymerization inhibitors in low dose to potentiate host immune responses and induce immunogenic tumor-deaths in resistant cancers to circumvent the toxicity of chemotherapy.
“Two undergraduate students at the UA Fort Smith will gain in-lab experience for molecular modeling guided synthesis and will cross-train in cancer biology experimental techniques thanks to the INBRE funding, and upon completion of this initial study, we anticipate having at least two lead compounds to screen in pre-clinical mouse models of melanoma.” said Banerjee. “This funding will also allow us to train additional UAFS students in the state-of-the-art drug design and development.
Banerjee will be assisted in this research by two UAFS undergraduate students, Bobbi Evans and Joshua Thammathong, both of whom are trained in pharmacophore, molecular docking, and ADMET-based virtual screening as well as the state of small complex molecule synthesis.
The Arkansas INBRE is funded by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences under the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The IDeA Program was established to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical and behavioral research.