Noted brain researcher Santosh D’Mello joins SMU as Biological Sciences chair

Santosh D’Mello

Noted brain researcher Santosh D’Mello joins SMU as Biological Sciences chair

Santosh D’Mello

Santosh D’Mello, a respected scientist whose research is centered on understanding the molecular mechanisms regulating neurodegeneration, has joined SMU as professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, effective Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

D’Mello comes to SMU from the University of Texas at Dallas, where he was a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. He is a longtime partner in research with SMU Professor of Chemistry Edward Biehl.

In December 2010, D’Mello and Biehl published in The Journal of Neuroscience Research their discovery of a family of small molecules that shows promise in protecting brain cells against nerve-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

“Professor D’Mello brings broad experience and an excellent record as a researcher and teacher to SMU,” said Dedman College Dean Bill Tsutsui.  “His focus on building meaningful collaborations and his ambitious vision for the future of the Department of Biological Sciences impressed all of us on campus.”

D’Mello received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1989 and joined the faculty at UTD in 1998. Funding for his research has included support from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the Whitehall Foundation.

“Neurodegenerative diseases, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and Huntington’s disease, are characterized by the slow but relentless loss of brain cells,” D’Mello said.  “There are no effective drugs or other therapeutic approaches to treat or prevent these progressive and fatal diseases. The goal of my lab is to understand neurodegeneration at the molecular level so that effective therapies can be developed.”

D’Mello said he was drawn to SMU because of the University’s strengths in several areas of the arts, humanities, and sciences. “I was particularly attracted by the collegial and talented faculty in the biology department, their keen interest in solving important biological problems, and their strong commitment to the teaching and training of students,” D’Mello said.

“I am honored to be named Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences and am very excited about the opportunity,” D’Mello said.  “I look forward to working with the faculty, staff and students to build a strong multidisciplinary and collaborative research department with cutting-edge research performed by bright, talented, and motivated undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.”

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read the full story from SMU News

April 8, 2014|News, Year of the Faculty|

Research Spotlight: New hope for Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s

Sukanta Kamila, Edward R. Biehl and Haribabu Ankati of SMUInvestigators at SMU and The University of Texas at Dallas have discovered a family of small molecules that shows promise in protecting brain cells against nerve-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s, which afflict millions.

Dallas-based startup EncephRx, Inc. was granted the worldwide license to the jointly owned compounds. A biotechnology and therapeutics company, EncephRx will develop drug therapies based on the new class of compounds as a pharmaceutical for preventing nerve-cell damage, delaying onset of degenerative nerve disease and improving symptoms.

Treatments currently in use don’t stop or reverse degenerative nerve diseases, but instead only alleviate symptoms, sometimes with severe side effects. If proved effective and nontoxic in humans, EncephRx’s small-molecule pharmaceuticals would be the first therapeutic tools able to stop affected brain cells from dying.

“Our compounds protect against neurodegeneration in mice,” said synthetic organic chemist Edward R. Biehl, the <a href="SMU Department of Chemistry professor who led development of the compounds at SMU. “Given successful development of the compounds into drug therapies, they would serve as an effective treatment for patients with degenerative brain diseases.”

EncephRx initially will focus its development and testing efforts toward Huntington’s disease and potentially will have medications ready for human trials in two years, said Aaron Heifetz, CEO at EncephRx.

Biehl developed the compounds in collaboration with UT-Dallas biology professor Santosh R. D’Mello, whose laboratory has been studying the process of neurodegeneration for several years.

“Additional research needs to be done, but these compounds have the potential for stopping or slowing the relentless loss of brain cells in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said D’Mello, professor of molecular and cell biology at UT-Dallas, with a joint appointment in the School of Brain and Behavioral Science. “The protective effect that they display in tissue culture and animal models of neurodegenerative disease provides strong evidence of their promise as drugs to treat neurodegenerative disorders.”

Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s are disorders of the central nervous system marked by abnormal and excessive loss of neurons in a part of the mid-brain, say the researchers.

The diseases steadily erode motor skills, including speech and the ability to walk, cause tremors, slowed movement, stooped posture, memory loss and mood and behavior problems.

The risk of developing a degenerative nerve disease increases with age. These diseases affect more than 5 million Americans.

One member of a class of heterocyclic organic compounds, the synthetic chemicals developed and tested by SMU and UT Dallas scientists, was shown to be highly protective of neurons in tissue culture models and effective against neurodegeneration in animal models.

The most promising lead compound, designated HSB-13, was tested in Huntington’s disease animal models. It not only reduced degeneration in a part of the forebrain but also improved behavioral performance while proving nontoxic. The compound also was efficacious in a commonly used fly model of Alzheimer’s disease.

“These preliminary tests demonstrated that the compound was an extremely potent neuroprotective agent,” Biehl said.

The findings were published in the article “Identification of novel 1,4-benzoxazine compounds that are protective in tissue culture and in vivo models of neurodegeneration,” which appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience Research. The National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the project.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Above, SMU chemists Ed Biehl, center, Sukanta Kamila (right) and Haribabu Ankati (left). Photo by Hillsman Jackson, SMU.

December 7, 2010|News, Research|

Research Spotlight: Saving the brain, stopping disease

Healthy neurons Degenerating neurons
Left: The image shows healthy neurons cultured from rats from a part of the brain called the cerebellum.

Right: In degenerating neurons, the oval and bulbous cell bodies shrivel up and fragment, impeding connections with other neurons.

Researchers in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and The University of Texas at Dallas have identified a group of chemical compounds that slows the degeneration of neurons, a condition that causes such common diseases of old age as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Their findings are featured in the November 2008 edition of Experimental Biology and Medicine.

SMU Chemistry Professor Edward Biehl and UTD Biology Professor Santosh R. D’Mello teamed to test 45 chemical compounds. Four were found to be the most potent protectors of brain cells, or neurons. The synthesized chemicals, called “3-substituted indolin-2-one compounds,” are derivatives of another compound called GW5074 that was shown to prevent neurodegeneration in a past report published by the D’Mello lab.

While effective at protecting neurons from decay or death, GW5074 is toxic to cells at slightly elevated doses, which makes it unsuitable for clinical testing in patients. The newly identified, second generation compounds maintain the protective feature of GW5074 but are not toxic – even at very high doses – and hold promise in halting the steady march of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The new compounds may offer doctors an option beyond treating the symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases and may result in compounds that stop cell death that may be used in combination with currently existing drugs that battle the symptoms of brain diseases.

Read more from SMU News

November 13, 2008|Research|
Load More Posts