UNK’s Allen Thomas

UNK’s Allen Thomas has received a $399,000 award for his research on treating brain cancer and selectively delivering drugs to brain tumors.

KEARNEY – Allen Thomas has received a $399,000 National Institutes of Health award for his research on treating brain cancer and selectively delivering drugs to brain tumors.

An assistant professor of chemistry in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s College of Natural and Social Sciences, Thomas is recognized for his project titled “Identification of New LAT-1 Transporter Substrates for Drug Delivery.”

One of the challenges for treating brain cancer is designing drugs that are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, the layer of cells that protects the brain from toxic substances, Thomas said.

“My group seeks to exploit one of the BBB’s natural mechanisms for transporting amino acids, the LAT-1 transporter protein, to use it for drug delivery into the brain. We will attempt to optimize the structure and chemical properties of amino acid mimetics so that they can be attached to drug molecules and then pass through the blood-brain barrier to selectively deliver drugs to brain tumors.”

Thomas is in his fourth year at UNK, where he teaches organic and general chemistry, and specializes in organic synthesis and medicinal chemistry research.

Thomas said his $399,000 award will be used until 2020 primarily to pay UNK research student salaries, purchase chemicals and research supplies, and cover research expenses incurred by Thomas and collaborators at University of San Francisco California and Northwestern University.

National Institutes of Health established the Academic Research Enhancement Award to stimulate research at educational institutions that provide baccalaureate training for a significant number of the nation’s research scientists but that have not been major recipients of NIH support.

The program’s objectives are to provide support for meritorious research, strengthen the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support, and expose available undergraduate and graduate students in such environments to meritorious research.

The award provides funding for small-scale, new or ongoing health-related research projects, including pilot research projects and feasibility studies; development, testing and refinement of research techniques; secondary analysis of available data sets; and similar discrete research projects that demonstrate research capability.