CU receives $14.6 million to assess mechanisms of biological, chemical agents

The University of Colorado at Boulder announced on Tuesday that it received a cooperative agreement worth up to $14.6 million to develop a system to determine how biological or chemical agents impact cells.

The Defense Advanced Research Protects Agency awarded UC with the cooperative agreement for the Subcellular Pan-Omics for Advanced Rapid Threat Assessment project. The project will help DARPA to better understand the biochemical mechanisms at work when human cells are exposed to biological or chemical agents.

William Old, the leader of the research team, said the research may also lead to new techniques to analyze cellular processes for wide societal benefit.

"Traditionally it takes decades to figure out how drugs affect an organism's biology," Old said. "Our goal is to rapidly speed up the process, identifying how these compounds work in weeks. This could lower the barriers to developing effective drugs that have minimal side effects."

While researchers know how chemical agents like sarin function, researchers do not fully understand the mechanisms that cause long-term damage in individuals who survive exposure.

"We know this drug causes negative effects in multiple signaling pathways, but what we lack is a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that lead to long-term systemic damage in individuals that survive exposure," Tristan McClure-Begley, a pharmacologist and analytical chemist on the project, said.

The researchers will comprehensively measure all major classes of biomolecules that respond to cellular treatment or biological signal within milliseconds to days. The research will help the team determine the key molecular events that mediate how cells respond.

The researchers will develop new microfluidic devices to manipulate and control the individual components of cells to obtain subcellular resolution and provide new insights to how individual proteins and organelles function after exposed to biological and chemical agents.