Chemistry Professors Receive Grant to Extend Malaria Research

April 7, 2005

Contact: Emilie Moghadam

The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded Georgetown University chemistry professors Christian Wolf, Paul Roepe and Angel de Dios a research grant totaling $1,940,000 for their interdisciplinary efforts in developing improved drugs to treat drug resistant malaria.   

“I would like to congratulate Professors Wolf, Roepe and de Dios on this remarkable accomplishment,” said Jane McAuliffe, Dean of Georgetown College.  “It reflects both the university’s strengths in sciences and, perhaps most significantly, the impact that our program can and will have with regard to global health issues.”

Over the past three years, Wolf, Roepe and de Dios have successfully combined their expertise in biochemistry, synthetic chemistry and physical chemistry, respectively, to assemble the award-winning proposal, “Designing HTA Therapy for Drug Resistant Malaria.”  The professors began this joint venture – the first of its kind at Georgetown – after a collaborative research project among their research labs.  

The proposal demonstrates the need for malaria treatments that will replace or build on the success of chloroquine, which has been the mainstay drug treatment for the disease over the past 50 years.  Recent rapid growth in chloroquine-resistant malaria has been the driving force for this research.  

“What few people realize is that malaria kills about two million children each year – which is more pediatric deaths than those caused by AIDS,” Roepe said.  “Unfortunately, these numbers don’t get much attention, because the disease really doesn’t affect the Western world.”  

American drug companies hesitate to put significant funding into malaria research because the demand for resistant drugs is almost nonexistent in the Western hemisphere where these companies are based.  As a result, the responsibility for developing new treatments lies in the hands of academics like Wolf, Roepe and de Dios as well as military personnel to develop the tools to combat this deadly disease.  

The Research Project Grant (R01), which is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH, traditionally provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH.   This particular grant will be disbursed over five years.  The first two years will focus on solving the structures of pre-existing drug target complexes in order to better understand how these drugs work, as well as expanding the team’s synthetic chemistry efforts.  The remaining years will be spent further developing news drugs or drug combinations and screening them for effectiveness.  

“I’d like to see these interdisciplinary efforts in the sciences at Georgetown grow,” Roepe said.  “Without them, this type of scientific development is impossible.”  

Paul Roepe is associate professor of chemistry, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular biology, a member of the Tumor Biology Program at the Lombardi Cancer Center and, recently, founding co-director of Georgetown’s new Center for Infectious Disease. He is an expert in biochemistry with specific research interests in molecular mechanisms of biological membrane transport and biochemical mechanisms of drug resistance. Roepe serves on several editorial boards for drug development journals and currently holds several NIH RO1 awards for research on malaria.  He was also the 1999 recipient of the Burroughs Welcome New Initiative Awards.   

Christian Wolf is an assistant professor of chemistry. He is an expert in organic chemistry and his research interests include stereochemistry; chiral recognition; asymmetric catalysis; stereoselective sensing; palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions; enantioselective chromatography, and development of new antimalarial quinoline and acridine drugs.  Wolf was a 2004 recipient of an NSF CAREER Award.  

Angel C. de Dios is an associate professor of chemistry. He teaches General Chemistry I & II, Physical Chemistry I & II, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). His research interests include development and application of new experimental and theoretical methods in NMR spectroscopy that will help elucidate structure and function relationships in systems of biological relevance.  De Dios has been the recipient of several awards, including the Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award (1995), NSF CAREER Award (1999) and Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2004).  He currently serves as a member of the Chemistry Committee of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  As a member of the Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE), de Dios has also helped build computer classrooms in the Philippines. 

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