Burris Receives $150,000 Washington University School of Medicine Grant for Autophagy Research

Published on 02 June 2021

Tom Burris, Ph.D., FAAAS, FAHA, Alumni Chair in Pharmaceutical Education and vice president for research at University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, has received a $150,000 grant from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis’ Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Autophagy Therapeutics and Research to support research related to the biologic pathway known as autophagy.

Known to play a critical role in maintaining the health of cells, the autophagy pathway is a mechanism through which the body can remove dysfunctional components of cells and recycle parts of them into new or different compounds. When functioning optimally, the autophagy process removes toxic proteins from cells attributed to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, making it an emerging target for drug discovery.

“The Needleman Center for Autophagy Therapeutics and Research at Washington University School of Medicine was created to identify and develop drugs that target key parts of the autophagy pathway,” Burris explained. “The grant the Needleman Center has provided to us will be utilized to help us further investigate the connection between Estrogen Related Receptor (ERR) compounds and autophagy within the heart.”

ERRs are orphan nuclear receptors that have been demonstrated to control oxidative metabolism and energy expenditure, and have also demonstrated roles in treating conditions like diabetes and cancer.

Recent research by Burris and his team has demonstrated that the autophagy pathway could be induced with ERR targeted drugs in studies related to cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

“What we found in our research was that our ERR targeted drugs were responsible for helping the heart induce pathways which were causing the renewal of some damaged components within the heart cells,” Burris said. “Now that we know that autophagy is one of the pathways that is being modulated by ERR targeted drugs, our work will be focused on figuring out how the ERR drugs are working to induce autophagy with the goal of eventually creating therapeutics that can better treat heart failure and cardiovascular disease.”

Burris’ $150,000 grant will fund two years of research designed to unveil the connection between ERR compounds, autophagy and the heart.

“The Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Autophagy Therapeutics and Research is one of the few centers in the nation dedicated to studying autophagy, and we are grateful to them for providing us with the opportunity to help further research and discovery on this exciting topic,” Burris said.

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