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College of Pharmacy

Pharmacy professor receives concurrent grants for HIV/AIDS research

Posted on: August 19, 2020

Jun Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., professor in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences for the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, has been named a recipient of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grant for his study on “Allosteric Modulators of Dopamine Transporter as Therapeutic Agents for NeuroAIDS.” The five-year grant totaling $3.96M is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Zhu will share the grant along with Subramaniam Ananthan, Ph.D., a medicinal chemist with the Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.

This award is Zhu’s second R01 grant and is based on the mechanistic studies from his initial R01 grant awarded in 2013. The grant was renewed in 2018 for an additional five years, an accomplishment of which Zhu is extremely proud. “I have been continuously studying the same research for the past 10 years,” Zhu says, “and am grateful to DDBS and COP for supporting my research.”

To receive two of these grants concurrently is impressive and significant.

Stephen J. Cutler, Ph.D.  Dean, College of Pharmacy

Stephen J. Cutler, dean for the College of Pharmacy, commends Zhu for his work in receiving a second R01 grant. “There is no better recognition among one’s peers than to receive an impact score on a R-type grant application that results in a Notice of Award,” Cutler says. “To receive two of these grants concurrently is impressive and significant.”

Zhu’s research focuses on HIV/AIDS, which affects nearly 38 million people around the world. Despite the success of combination antiretroviral therapies to control the infection and improve the life of HIV patients, more than half of HIV-1 patients develop neurological disorders, including cognitive disorders, motor deficits and dementia, all of which are collectively referred to as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND).

HAND is associated with HIV-1 viral proteins in the brain. One such protein, known as Tat, is thought to inhibit neuronal communication by acting directly on neurotransmitter transporters such as the human dopamine transporter (hDAT). Zhu’s study will focus on identifying the underlying mechanism of the Tat protein and develop compounds to block the inhibition of hDAT, which can prevent development of cognitive impairment in HIV patients.

 Zhu’s grant will have a meaningful impact on his research.  “Not only does the grant support funding for the College of Pharmacy,” Zhu notes, “it will also improve graduate and professional education by attracting graduate students and Pharm.D. students rotating through my lab. And we can generate more preliminary data for the next grant application.”


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