New Medical School Faculty Member Maurizio Pellecchia Brings a Gift to UCR

Advanced instrument will significantly expand UCR’s research capabilities in medicine, biochemistry and bioengineering

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – With great excitement and anticipation, a small crowd gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 10, outside of the Chemical Sciences Building at UCR to witness the delivery of scientific instrument that will significantly advance research in such fields as biomedical sciences, chemistry, engineering and agricultural sciences.

The sophisticated instrument, known as a 700 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer, came to UCR with Maurizio Pellecchia, a new faculty member in the UCR School of Medicine who is internationally known for his research in structure-based drug design.

His laboratory focuses on the design, synthesis and evaluation of novel pharmacological tools in the areas of cancer, neurodegeneration, and potentially other disease areas. A key tool in this research is nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which can be used to precisely determine the physical and chemical properties of molecules such as those with potential medical applications.

“This high-resolution instrument will enhance tremendously the translational research capabilities of the School of Medicine in the fields of oncology, neurodegeneration, and potentially other areas,” said Pellecchia, a professor of biomedical sciences in the medical school. “The NMR will also be a resource to the entire scientific community at UCR. The NMR instrument can find a variety of applications in the areas of chemistry, biochemistry, and bioengineering.”

The instrument arrived at UCR on a flatbed semi-truck trailer. Components of the instrument, including its three-ton magnet, were lifted off the truck by a heavy-duty forklift. A crane was required to lower the magnet into a subterranean alcove where it could be maneuvered into UCR’s Analytical Chemistry Instrumentation Facility (ACIF). The ACIF contains a variety of advanced instruments for scientific research requiring analysis of small molecules.

“The increased sensitivity of the 700 MHz NMR spectrometer Dr. Pellecchia is moving to UCR brings state-of-the art measurement capabilities to faculty and students in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Bourns College of Engineering, as well as the School of Medicine,” said Cindy Larive, interim dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. “This instrument will make possible exciting new science ranging from drug discovery, metabolism studies, determination of enzyme structure and dynamics, synthesis of new catalysts, and characterization of novel materials for energy production and storage.”

“It is a measure of who Professor Pellecchia is that he has brought this piece of equipment which transforms the research capabilities of this campus not just for his own use but for all UCR researchers,” said Monica Carson, professor and chair of Biomedical Sciences.

Pellecchia came to UCR from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego, where he was a professor of chemical biology and associate director of translational research. There, his research focused on developing new potential therapeutic drugs for cancer and, more recently, neurodegeneration.

A discovery in his laboratory has spun off a new company, Iron Horse Therapeutics, Inc., which is developing a potential therapeutic agent for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a debilitating neurological disease affecting nerve cells in the brain leading to a progressive loss of muscle control. There is no cure.

Iron House Therapeutics – named for the nickname of baseball great Lou Gehrig, who was forced to retire in 1939 due to the symptoms of ALS – is developing a drug candidate for future clinical trials.

Pellecchia’s lab is also developing novel agents aimed at inhibiting cancer metastases and delivery agents that may be used in conjunction with chemotherapeutic drugs to selectively kill cancer cells while sparing normal cells.

“I am thrilled about joining UCR and find it particularly attractive and exciting to be part of the young School of Medicine,” he said. “The collegial spirit and scientific depth of my new colleagues at UCR are surely inspiring and I look forward to engage in collaborative research within the medical school and also with other departments.   I absolutely love the campus atmosphere and the new Research Building at the School of Medicine is truly a gem.”

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