College of Medicine researchers win grants for projects seeking to cure cancer, tobacco-related diseases

Two FIU researchers have each received a $100,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health for projects focusing on diseases relating to tobacco use including heart disease.

Alexander Agoulnik and Barry Rosen, both professors in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, were two of only nine researchers to receive funding from a competitive field of 91 original applicants.

Agoulnik’s project, “Vascular effects of relaxin receptor agonists,” focuses on relaxin, a natural peptide normally produced in reproductive organs. Recently, the relaxin hormone showed favorable results in a clinical trial in patients with acute heart failure. It reduced shortness of breath, improved cardiovascular mortality and the progression of heart failure. However, using the recombinant, or genetically re-engineered, relaxin peptide has significant drawbacks because it is rapidly metabolized, has high production costs, must be administered intravenously and has a risk of inducing an adverse immunological reaction.

 H2 relaxin increases the number of days patients are alive and out of the hospital.

H2 relaxin increases the number of days patients are alive and out of the hospital.

Most of these restrictions could be eliminated by using bioactive small molecule compounds with relaxin-like properties. Preliminary data with the compounds created in Agoulnik’s lab indicates that they have high biological activity, low toxicity, and greater stability in experiments performed in isolated cells. The current proposal is designed to confirm the biological activity of small molecules in live animals. The use of such compounds as alternatives to the relaxin hormone will have numerous benefits in the treatment of acute heart failure brought on by smoking. Agoulnik also received a two year grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research on relaxin.

Rosen received his award from the Department of Health’s Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program for his proposal “Development of high-throughput assays to identify drugs to prevent arsenic carcinogenesis,” which will explore an innovative approach to discovering drugs that may prevent arsenic exposure-related cancers.


Arsenic, the most pervasive “Group A” human environmental carcinogen in nature, is omnipresent in our drinking water and food supply.

Rosen, one of the world’s foremost experts in arsenic-related research, is embarking on a new study that explores a new method to discovering drugs that may prevent arsenic exposure-related cancers. An understanding of both arsenic chemistry and the molecular details of arsenic transport systems is critical to helping alleviate the problems of arsenic toxicity, as well as for the rational design of drugs to treat drug-resistant microbes and cancer cells.

Visit the Florida Department of Health website for more information on research initiatives.


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