Today there is one FDA-approved drug for stroke, and the patient has to reach the hospital within three hours for it to be effective. Only two-four percent of stroke victims arrive in time. Dr. Keith Pennypacker’s team at University of South Florida is working to change these statistics.
In 2009, Dr. Pennypacker received a King Team Science Program Grant, designed to foster collaboration among several researchers in order to tackle the complexities of tobacco-related diseases such as stroke.
The team is testing new compounds not only to treat and improve recovery after stroke but also to extend the window for treatment beyond the current 3 hours. The diverse team includes a chemist and experts in neuroscience and pharmacology, as well as a dozen students who are working and training on the grant. The team is testing a new compounds that have the potential to reduce brain damage and open the window of treatment to at least 24 hours.
Dr. Pennypacker’s research is attracting attention in the field because team findings show that stroke is not just a brain injury but has a whole body component. “Stroke is more complex than we thought. We have been looking at it as a brain-specific injury, but actually the whole body is involved. For example, responses from the immune system cause further neurodegeneration and damage to the brain. Since there are so many layers of attack on the brain, we need a multi-pronged treatment,” explained Dr. Pennypacker.
“Clinicians and researchers alike have found our data fascinating, and some research groups are now exploring this treatment direction,” Dr. Alison Willing, 2009 Team Science Program Grant Team Member, University of South Florida.
Dr. Pennypacker attributes the team’s progress to the diverse expertise of team members and the focused time and effort enabled by the grant. “With the range of skills we have, our team is really mimicking a pharmaceutical company. We are applying different expertise to design and test new compounds in animals to more effectively treat human stroke.”
This research has also spun off into resolving the problem of edema or swelling in the brain during stroke. In a collaboration with a neurologist, Dr. Pennypacker has submitted an NIH grant application to work on this aspect of stroke treatment.
Research Funding Stimulates Florida Economy and Attracts New Talent
“Investing in research not only generates discoveries to improve human health but also stimulates the Florida economy. “With National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding cuts and pharmaceutical company reductions, it’s very difficult to find funding for new drug development, which is an expensive process. Grants from pharmaceutical companies are non-existent right now, and more of us are trying to apply our knowledge of basic science and transform it to find treatments for patients,” explained Dr. Pennypacker.
““Grants are an economic stimulus to our area. Drug discovery has a major impact on economic growth because discovery attracts pharmaceutical companies to invest in compounds developed here. When a company licenses out a patent, the licenses are for several million dollars, and our Florida institutions receive a good percentage of that amount,” Dr. Keith Pennypacker, 2009 Team Science Program Grant Project Director, University of South Florida.”
In addition to funding research that leads to commercialization, Dr. Pennypacker noted the role Program grants play in recruiting new talent to Florida. “We always herald the King and Bankhead-Coley Programs when we are recruiting new scientists. It is a very important feature in attracting research talent to Florida. Particularly with decreased funding from NIH, another source of funding is very important in attracting individuals here.”