Professor grabs NIH grant

A chemistry professor has secured a grant for an estimated $720,000 from the National Institutes of Health to expand drug research on tuberculosis.

Cynthia Dowd, who has explored the development of small molecules as a treatment for tuberculosis, was awarded the grant over stiff competition – only 1 percent of applications receive funding. Dowd said the exact numbers have not yet been decided, but her grant will be “in the neighborhood of about $720,000.”

The NIH received $200 million in stimulus funds to dole out to projects.

Dowd said she will put the money toward research she has already begun in the laboratory, in which she uses organic synthesis to test molecules against specific targets in the hopes of finding a treatment for tuberculosis.

“The grant funds people in my lab to do this work, as well as some equipment, and to do the synthesis and testing of the compounds,” Dowd said. “They’re two-year awards and mine is specifically towards drug discovery for tuberculosis, which is work that I’ve started already here at GW, and the grant will help me accelerate that work.”

The grant is part of a stimulus fund challenge competition. More than 20,000 applications were submitted for the available $200 million, creating the 1 percent acceptance rate.

“It’s more stringent a standard than has ever been applied to any competition, to the best of my knowledge. That’s one of the reasons Cynthia Dowd has to be commended, that she actually got a 1-percentile score,” said Anne Hirshfield, associate vice president for health research. “They expected to get a few thousand applications and got over 20,000 applications. And nobody was expecting that size of response.”

Dowd said she was thrilled to receive the grant.

“I feel fantastic, obviously. It’s a great opportunity for anyone to advance their work, and specifically to a young investigator like myself, it’s a great chance to really get out of the gates and start running immediately,” said Dowd, who is in her late 30s.

Dowd created molecules based on fosmidomycin, a compound that successfully killed the bacteria in tuberculosis this past summer, according to a University news release. She is now focusing on changing the structure of fosmidomycin to specifically combat tuberculosis.

Dowd’s grant comes as one of several awarded to GW research teams. The University has received nearly $13 million in grants from the NIH and the National Science Foundation this year, and 52 proposals are still pending, Hirshfield said last week.

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