Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong awarded contract to study chemopreventive agents

A nearly $500,000 grant has been awarded to Dr. Zigang Dong, Executive Director of The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota-Mayo Clinic, to use computer simulations in studying compounds that show potential for preventing cancer.

Awarded this spring, the subcontract for $499,668 runs through June 2012 and was awarded to The Hormel Institute by Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania through grant funds from the National Institutes of Health. It will use computer simulations to examine potential chemopreventive agents for prospective target and off-target proteins found in cancer.

“Technology plays a critical role in understanding complex and deadly diseases like cancer,” said Dong. “This grant aligns technology with research and allows us to accelerate results in a timeframe previously not possible.

Evidence suggests these compounds – including resveratrol (red wine, grapes) and curcumin (turmeric powder) – are effective chemopreventive agents but their mechanism of action is not completely clear. These agents are structurally diverse and have been reported to show preventive activity in other types of scientific studies.

This computational approach aims to test a variety of agents with apparent preventive activity but with unclear protein targets; test a more limited number of agents with known chemopreventive activity and known protein target for potential off-target proteins to which they might bind as well; and conduct a virtual screen against two specific proteins using a variety of databases to find additional inhibitory molecules.

Chemoprevention has become an important emphasis in the fight against cancer, including the intake of natural or synthetic molecular compounds that inhibit or slow the formation of cancer cells.

Accumulating evidence suggests numerous phytochemicals and other natural compounds can interfere with and prevent cancer.

Today’s powerful supercomputers, efficient docking and modeling software programs, and electronic databases filled with millions of compounds and protein structures have created a great resource in searching for target or off-target proteins for well-known chemopreventive compounds.

The Hormel Institute’s Expansion Project completed in 2008 provided space to develop its International Center of Research Technology. The ICRT houses the world’s most-advanced, cancer-fighting technologies, including IBM’s Blue Gene/L supercomputer used to accelerate cancer research discoveries in a timeframe previously not possible.

Later this year, a second IBM supercomputer will be added to The Hormel Institute’s ICRT.

The Hormel Institute is a world-renowned medical research center specializing in researching nontoxic, natural compounds that can be used to prevent, control or cure cancer. It comprises a group of highly successful medical scientists who have focused their efforts on determining the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer development to develop new anti-cancer agents.