St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Invests $13M in Columbia, Duke, and Stanford Collaboration

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has committed nearly $13 million toward a new research collaboration with scientists at Columbia University, Duke University, and Stanford University to expand understanding of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), vital proteins that have been linked to more than 100 human diseases and disorders.

GPCRs are important in regulating various cellular functions involved in diseases like diabetes, obesity, depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's, as well as cancer progression. More than 800 different kinds of GPCRs exist in the human body, and roughly one third of all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration target a member of this receptor family in some fashion.

Jonathan A. Javitch, MD, PhD

The GPCR Collaborative is led by two St. Jude researchers, Scott Blanchard, PhD, and M. Madan Babu, PhD.  Jonathan A. Javitch, MD, PhD, the Lieber Professor of Experimental Therapeutics (in Psychiatry) and professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, will lead the Columbia arm of the collaboration. St. Jude investigators are also partnering with Nobel laureate and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Robert Lefkowitz, MD, at Duke, and J. Georgios Skiniotis, PhD, and Alice Ting, PhD, both at Stanford. 

“I am honored and grateful to St. Jude for providing the opportunity to partner with researchers from three esteemed institutions whose complementary expertise can speed scientific and medical breakthroughs that could lead to more effective strategies for patient care,” said Dr. Javitch, who also is chief of the Division of Molecular Therapeutics at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

The collaboration builds on the previous work of the Javitch and Blanchard labs to investigate how drugs influence receptors differently. In Nature Methods in 2021, their investigation shed light on the dimeric nature of GPCRs—how two individual molecules come together to perform their function. The Javitch lab has been continuing to advance these approaches to directly image in living ells the downstream impact of receptor activitation, one protein at a time.  

The multidisciplinary research team will integrate and improve advanced methodologies—including single-molecule imaging, cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM), data science, and other techniquesto study GPCR biology, structure, and pharmacology. Building on insights from these studies,  investigators hope to  develop new therapies for a number of pediatric diseases, including cancer and other life-threatening conditions. 

The initiative is part of an overall effort by St. Jude to fund multi-institutional, collaborative research that addresses complex scientific problems with transformative potential for the diseases treated at St. Jude. Since 2017, six different Research Collaborative projects have been funded with an investment of more than $80 million with institutions including Princeton University, Washington University St. Louis, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Broad Institute of MIT/Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and the NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

By 2027, St. Jude plans to support even more collaborations focused on unanswered needs in science and medicine which will increase total investment to $160 million.

“We understand that a team-oriented approach can increase the speed of research progress,” said James R. Downing, MD, president and CEO of St. Jude. “The complexities of pediatric cancers and other life-threatening diseases demand collaboration among the best minds in their respective fields.”

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