Volume 43 | Number 2 | Fall 2013

Biomedical Lab Aids Drug Discoveries at ISU—Meridian

Fall 2013 Issue | By Chris Gabettas

Scientists working in the new pharmacology and biomedical laboratory at the Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center are conducting research that may lead to new drugs to fight cancer, dementia and infectious disease.

The lab, which became operational in April, is located on the second floor of the L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Complex.

Thanks to a $500,000 gift from The ALSAM Foundation, the charitable trust of the late Sam Skaggs and his wife, Aline, ISU recruited pharmacology researchers Todd Talley and Kirk Hevener to work in the lab and provided them with start-up funds to purchase equipment. Both are assistant professors in the College of Pharmacy's Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

"This is huge for ISU. We are hiring people who are doing unique work that isn't being done anywhere else," said Robin Dodson, a professor and student services director in the College of Pharmacy.

Talley, who joined ISU in March 2012, holds a doctorate in organic and medicinal chemistry from the University of Montana in Missoula. He is a former project scientist at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California in San Diego. Talley has lectured internationally and published numerous articles on biomolecular research.

Hevener holds Doctor of Pharmacy and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee in Memphis. Before joining ISU in March, he conducted postdoctoral research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and at the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Both researchers are working on the frontier of drug discovery—a new approach to developing pharmaceuticals by understanding how disease and infection are controlled at the molecular and physiological level. With that knowledge, scientists are able to target specific enzymes and compounds that cause the disease.

Talley is researching how nicotine binds with protein receptors in the human brain, which could one day lead to the discovery of new drugs and therapies to treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and myasthenia gravis. He notes that nicotine receptors play a role in cognition, inflammation and pain.

Hevener's research focuses on the development of new antibiotics to fight infectious disease. Much of his work is related to the design of small molecule compounds that can inhibit the action of essential enzymes and stop or slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria.

Both researchers use a process called x-ray crystallography, which enables them to view the three-dimensional structure of molecules, enzymes, and other proteins.

"Think of it as a lock and key. Once we know the shape of the lock, it's easier to design a key to fit it," said Hevener.

The biomedical lab includes a mammalian tissue culture suite, an area for X-ray crystallography, specialized microscopes, incubators and hoods.

Talley and Hevener work closely with ISU-Meridian assistant professor and computational scientist, Dong "Danny" Xu, who uses computers to determine how compounds and drugs interact with disease targets. Several graduate and undergraduate students are also using the lab for their research.

ISU officials see the lab as a tool to build relationships with other university and medical researchers in the area and to promote science education at Renaissance High School, which is adjacent to the ISU-Meridian Health Science Center.

"The lab brings ISU's research footprint to the Treasure Valley," said Talley.

Anatomy and Physiology Laboratories to be Built in Meridian

Idaho State University plans to build an 8,000 square-foot complex on its Meridian campus, to enhance health-science education for students and provide advanced training opportunities for medical professionals.

The Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratories, the only facility of its kind in Idaho, will include a multi-station cadaver lab for the study of the human body and a physiology lab equipped with three-dimensional computer software.

Thanks to a partnership with the Idaho Education Network, ISU will be able to provide anatomy and physiology presentations to every high school in the state. Lessons could include virtual tours of the human body and sessions in forensics, sports medicine, nutrition and healthy lifestyles, according to ISU-Meridian Academic Vice President Bessie Katsilometes.

Other benefits of the Labs include:

  • Educating mid-level health practitioners who can help fill the gap in primary care, particularly in rural Idaho communities
  • Providing specialized training for schools, law enforcement and emergency service agencies
  • Fostering research and business opportunities in the health-care industry, one of the fastest growing sectors of the Idaho economy

The cost of the labs is $3.9 million. ISU has secured $1.9 million from the Idaho Legislature and is securing the remaining amount from private donors.