by Amy Martinez
Updated 3 weeks ago
A discovery by UF researchers provides relief for osteoarthritis patients.
An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoarthritis, a condition that can make it painful to move. Steroids help, but they can have side effects that include weight gain and increased risk of diabetes.
In 2015, University of Florida biomedical engineer Ben Keselowsky was trying to develop a natural, enzyme-based drug to treat osteoarthritis and other diseases. He had been studying an enzyme called IDO, an immune system regulator that converts tryptophan, an amino acid, to metabolites known as kynurenines. Believing IDO could help ease pain and swelling in osteoarthritis patients, Keselowsky wanted to inject the enzyme into damaged tissue via a biodegradable capsule, but it wouldn’t work.
“I was stuck,” he says. “My traditional biomedical approaches were destroying the enzyme so that it wasn’t functioning.”
Keselowsky explained the problem to another UF biomedical engineer, Greg Hudalla, who offered to help. In the process of developing a new delivery mechanism, they confronted another challenge: How to apply the enzyme to the targeted area — an arthritic knee, for example — without causing unwanted immune system reactions elsewhere in the body.
“A little bit of enzyme goes a long way,” Hudalla says. “So if an enzyme goes where you don’t want it to go, it can lead to really significant side effects.”
Eventually, they developed a way to attach the enzyme to a binding protein called galectin-3, which keeps the IDO in place and reduces inflammation only where needed. “It allows us to take a small quantity of drug, inject it into the affected site and have it stay there,” Hudalla says.
He and Keselowsky dubbed their invention IDO-GATER (short for Galectin Anchors for Therapeutic Enzyme Retention). They say the patent-pending technology can quiet inflammation for up to a month.
They now hope to raise money to take IDO-GATER through the U.S. regulatory process. “We’re very early stage,” Hudalla says. “We’re trying to find people with business experience who see our vision for moving this forward.”
In May, they won the $25,000 2019 CADE Prize, given annually to an innovative Florida startup by the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, Hudalla and Keselowsky are working under a federal grant with UF’s College of Dentistry to use their discovery to improve treatments for gum disease, and they continue to look for new uses for IDO-GATER. One potential market: Animals suffering from arthritic pain. “We envision it will work just as well in animals as it does in humans,” Hudalla says.
Cancer Health Disparities
UF recently marked the opening of the Florida-California Cancer Research, Education and Engagement (CaRE2) Health Equity Center, an effort involving researchers from UF, Florida A&M University and the University of Southern California. The center is funded by a five-year, $16-million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Researchers will focus on cancer health disparities among black and Hispanic populations and will be led by principal investigators from each school.
UF Health has hired neuroge-neticist Matthew Farrer, who has been recognized internationally for his work on the genetics of Parkinson’s disease. Farrer will serve as a professor of neurology and director of the Clinical Genomics Program. He and his team of researchers will move from Canada, where he had been professor of medical genetics and director of the Centre for Applied Neurogenetics at the University of British Columbia. Farrer’s research established the genetic basis for familial and idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and has become the basis for clinical trials of therapies to slow or halt the progression of the disease.
Read more in Florida Trend's August issue.
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