Grant Award Announcement: Proof-of-Concept Grant for Collaborative Research

The Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Foundation has announced its first-ever awardees of its $25,000 Proof-of-Concept Grant for Collaborative Research for the purpose of improving human health and health care in the Paso del Norte region and beyond.

The recipients are a team of investigators via a joint collaboration between The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and Northern Arizona University (NAU). The $25,000 grant awarded on Feb. 28 will support the design and development of therapeutics to mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients, with the primary focus being United States military personnel.

This project will be headed by Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D., associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso, and Suman Sirimulla, Ph.D., lecturer of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University, with the assistance of Rachid Skouta, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UTEP. Capt. Stephen Crimmins, Ph.D. and chemist Kerry Preston from the Department of Clinical Investigation (DCI) at William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) will also be instrumental partners in this collaborative research project going forward.

The BioMedical Institute of the Americas (BMIA), doing business as RedSky, vetted the grant applications received and selected the winner based on the leveraging of bioinformatics and computational chemistry tools, the business potential, and the applicability of the collaboration for the Paso del Norte region given the significant presence of combat veterans in the region.

”RedSky feels that the collaboration created to execute this research project has the potential to create powerful innovations utilizing many strong local resources, strengthening relationships across institutions and capitalizing on the resources that RedSky offers in terms of scientific, intellectual property and business strategies,” said Albert Di Rienzo, president of RedSky.

”The MCA Foundation is excited to provide this Proof-of-Concept Grant to a very deserving team of innovative collaborators who are trying to address a serious condition that affects so many people in our region and around the world,” said Emma W. Schwartz, president of the MCA Foundation. “We hope this research positively impacts many lives in the future. We are fortunate to have RedSky serving as a mentor to UTEP, NAU and WBAMC as they proceed with their work.”

“PTSD remains the most prevalent bio-lateral consequence of the war theater,” Narayan said. “The proposed work on anti-PTSD therapeutics will take a new approach by the use of novel halogen-bonding concepts and halogen-shuffling chemistries. Through this new approach, the outcome could be a fine-tuning of interactions between PTSD chemi-receptors and pharmacophores, which will impact current levels of morbidity and mortality of patients suffering from PTSD. The Proof-of-Concept Grant for Collaborative Research is pivotal for the study’s next phase, and for achieving project deliverables and milestones. I look forward to building these collaborative partnerships and accelerating the work we are doing. We appreciate the work that the MCA Foundation and RedSky are doing to stimulate collaborations and translational research.”

About the Winners: 

  • Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Assistant Chair of the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso. Narayan is an associate professor of chemistry and holds adjunct appointments in Bioinformatics and Environmental Science and Engineering. Narayan has authored and co-authored approximately 50 papers, books and review articles on protein structure-function, host:guest chemistry; small molecule design, and therapeutics tailored for intervention in nitrosative stress–linked disorders including neurodegenerative diseases. Two compounds in his lab are in translational trials for Parkinson’s. In addition, Narayan is an expert on halogen bonding chemistry; an area that will be applied in this proposal toward the generation of nociceptin agonists. 
  • Suman Sirimulla, Ph.D., Lecturer of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University. Sirimulla actively pursues research in the field of theoretical and computational chemistry. He has a broad background in ligand design, protein-small ligand docking, homology modeling, protein folding and threading, protein-protein docking, pharmacophore analysis, molecular dynamics and developing computational tools for drug discovery research. 
  • Rachid Skouta, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso. Skouta has led multifarious projects bridging organic chemistry to myriad scientific problems that span various disciplines, such as chemistry, physics and biology. He was involved in the design, synthesis and biological testing of new small molecules in order to understand their mechanism of action toward various cancer diseases. He was a key contributor in the study of the structure-activity relationship (SAR) of small molecules and has developed methodologies permitting efficient synthesis of natural and non-natural products such as isoflavones, azaisoflavones and pterocarpens. 
  • Department of Clinical Investigation, William Beaumont Army Medical Center. The Department of Clinical Investigation oversees research protocol, development, approval and execution at WBAMC. 

About the Proof-of-Concept Grant for Collaborative Research: The Proof-of-Concept Collaboration Grant is designed to support a project that demonstrates a collaborative partnership for research activities focused on improving human health and health care in the Paso del Norte region and beyond. The next grant application will be made available in November 2014.

About the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation: The MCA Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization that advances the development of the MCA campus and the region’s biomedical innovation pipeline. The vision is to position the Paso del Norte region as the leader of health services delivery, medical education and research concentrating on issues unique to Hispanic, border and military populations. Go to

About RedSky: The BMIA, doing business as RedSky, is a subsidiary of the MCA Foundation created to accelerate the growth of biomedical innovations taking place in the Paso del Norte and beyond. Go to