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    With over 39,000 students, and research expenditures in excess of $200 million, George Mason University (GMU) is the largest R1 (Carnegie Classification of very high research activity) university in Virginia. Mason scientists have been involved in the discovery and development of novel diagnostics and therapeutics in areas as diverse as infectious diseases and cancer. Below are highlights of the efforts being led by Mason researchers in the drug discovery arena. To enable targeted cellular delivery, and non-biomedical applications, Veneziano and colleagues have developed a synthesis strategy that enables the design of self-assembling DNA nanoparticles (DNA origami) with prescribed shape and size in the 10 to 100 nm range. The nanoparticles can be loaded with molecules of interest such as drugs, proteins and peptides, and are a promising new addition to the drug delivery platforms currently in use. The investigators also recently used the DNA origami nanoparticles to fine tune the spatial presentation of immunogens to study the impact on B cell activation. These studies are an important step towards the rational design of vaccines for a variety of infectious agents. To elucidate the parameters for optimizing the delivery efficiency of lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), Buschmann, Paige and colleagues have devised methods for predicting and experimentally validating the pKa of LNPs based on the structure of the ionizable lipids used to formulate the LNPs. These studies may pave the way for the development of new LNP delivery vehicles that have reduced systemic distribution and improved endosomal release of their cargo post administration. To better understand protein-protein interactions and identify potential drug targets that disrupt such interactions, Luchini and colleagues have developed a methodology that identifies contact points between proteins using small molecule dyes. The dye molecules noncovalently bind to the accessible surfaces of a protein complex with very high affinity, but are excluded from contact regions. When the complex is denatured and digested with trypsin, the exposed regions covered by the dye do not get cleaved by the enzyme, whereas the contact points are digested. The resulting fragments can then be identified using mass spectrometry. The data generated can serve as the basis for designing small molecules and peptides that can disrupt the formation of protein complexes involved in disease processes. For example, using peptides based on the interleukin 1 receptor accessory protein (IL-1RAcP), Luchini, Liotta, Paige and colleagues disrupted the formation of IL-1/IL-R/IL-1RAcP complex and demonstrated that the inhibition of complex formation reduced the inflammatory response to IL-1B. Working on the discovery of novel antimicrobial agents, Bishop, van Hoek and colleagues have discovered a number of antimicrobial peptides from reptiles and other species. DRGN-1, is a synthetic peptide based on a histone H1-derived peptide that they had identified from Komodo Dragon plasma. DRGN-1 was shown to disrupt bacterial biofilms and promote wound healing in an animal model. The peptide, along with others, is being developed and tested in preclinical studies. Other research by van Hoek and colleagues focuses on in silico antimicrobial peptide discovery, screening of small molecules for antibacterial properties, as well as assessment of diffusible signal factors (DFS) as future therapeutics. The above examples provide insight into the cutting-edge studies undertaken by GMU scientists to develop novel methodologies and platform technologies important to drug discovery. Copyright © 2023. Published by Elsevier Inc.


    Ali Andalibi, Remi Veneziano, Mikell Paige, Michael Buschmann, Amanda Haymond, Virginia Espina, Alessandra Luchini, Lance Liotta, Barney Bishop, Monique Van Hoek. Drug discovery efforts at George Mason University. SLAS discovery : advancing life sciences R & D. 2023 Sep;28(6):270-274

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    PMID: 36921802

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