Three UR Medical Researchers Win Kornberg Award

July 10, 1998

Richard P. Phipps, Ph.D., Barbara H. Iglewski, Ph.D., and William H. Bowen, Ph.D., have received the second annual Kornberg Research Awards from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. The honor recognizes University of Rochester faculty members for excellence in medical research.

The award is named for Arthur Kornberg, M.D., a University of Rochester alumni and Nobel laureate. In 1959 Kornberg discovered the mechanisms in the biologic synthesis of DNA, a discovery that lead to the design of drugs used in chemotherapy, AIDS, herpes, the treatment of viruses, as well as the genetic engineering of proteins which led to the laboratory production of insulin and interferon.

Phipps was nominated for his work involving prostaglandins, molecules that regulate actions of immune system cells. Phipps showed how certain types of these molecules trigger responses from the immune system. While most of these reactions are beneficial to the body, reactions like allergy and asthma can be deleterious. Phipps is working to "turn off" the molecules that cause such responses.

In much the same manner, Phipps is working to "turn on" certain prostaglandin molecules to incite the immune system to attack certain afflictions it might otherwise ignore. Phipps sees the use of prostaglandins leading to useful therapeutics for leukemia and some types of cancer.

Iglewski's work centers on an opportunistic pathogen called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This microorganism does not affect healthy individuals, but rather those already weakened by some other ailment. The organism is often responsible for such conditions as pneumonia in a cancer victim. Iglewski discovered not only an enzyme the organism produces that ultimately causes the tissue damage, but how the bacteria resist biocides.

The organism "talks" to others of its kind by excreting a compound that the others sense. With this communication, the bacteria build themselves into a complex structure called a biofilm, and it's this film that resists the effects of regular biocides. Iglewski is working with Dr. Andrew Kende in the department of Chemistry at the University of Rochester to devise a drug that disrupts this line of communication so that the bacteria cannot build their resistance. Success means a common biocide or antibiotic could eliminate this bacteria from both patients and medical equipment.

Bowen's research centers on the most common disease in the world; dental caries, more commonly known as tooth decay. Bowen studies how plaque, an accumulation of bacteria, forms on the surface of the tooth. He found that an enzyme produced by the bacteria works more efficiently at damaging the tooth when adhered directly to it than when floating in a solution. The glue-like material, which is the foundation of dental plaque, is produced in 3-4 hours in solution, but in only 3-4 minutes when clinging to a surface. Bowen is looking for an inhibitor to block the enzyme's destructive ability on a surface, rather than in a solution like most researchers. If successful, Bowen hopes to have a method to significantly reduce tooth decay in the near future.

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