Dr. Seungil Ro, Ph.D., studies the correlation between obesity and Type 2 diabetes on Friday, March 23. Ro has received a $2 million grant to aid his research. Photo courtesy of UNR Med School

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine has received a $2 million research grant from a South Korean company, YUYANG DNU. The grant comes after Associate Professor Seungil Ro, Ph. D. discovered a molecule that can be used to create diabetes and obesity-related drugs.

“This $2M grant will allow our research team to screen FDA-approved chemical compound libraries to identify drug candidate compounds that can turn back on the suppressed gene in diabetes,” Ro said. “If we identify candidate drugs, we will validate them in cells and in diabetic mice to see if the drug(s) can stop or alleviate the conditions of obesity and diabetes. We will collect efficacy and toxicity data of the drug candidates to prepare for clinical trials.”

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic lifelong disease where sugar levels in the blood rise and are unable to process naturally due to the lack of insulin production in the body of the host. Over 400 million people worldwide are diabetic and as obesity rates increase so do the number in diabetic patients. The direct cause of diabetes is unknown making this discovery important to the medical community.

“Our lab members are excited about the work ahead of us and understand that although it is a large undertaking we are up for the challenge because we know the potential impact it will have on millions of people,” Ro said.

This will be the first time the UNR Medical School has received a grant from YUYANG DNU. In addition, Ro previously received multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health for the past 10 years.

“The outstanding work of our faculty, from basic research to translational research, is attracting attention,” vice president for research and innovation at UNR, Mridul Gautam, Ph.D., told NEVADAToday. “With the support and investment of YUYANG DNU, a global company, we will continue to enhance the competitiveness of our faculty, helping them grow their research and make a difference in the lives of many.”

Ro says that YUYANG DNU hopes to invest more funds for research and development in the United States by hosting a headquarters at UNR’s Innevation Center in downtown Reno.

According to a NEVADAToday press release, one of the goals of YUYANG DNU is to leverage medical research expertise at UNR Med in order to develop drug treatments that will target gastrointestinal complications that arise in patients who are obese or have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“This dedicated research funding is evidence that UNR Med is at the forefront of innovative solutions to improve global health,” UNR Med Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. told NEVADAToday.

Karolina Rivas can be reached at karolinar@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @karolinarrivas