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New virtual center for Indo-U.S. biomedical collaborations

The emergence of epidemic levels of metabolic syndrome in both the United States and India has helped inspire a new center to study the problem.

- By Jennie Dusheck

Sanjay Malhotra

A virtual center for collaboration between biomedical researchers in India and the United States has won financial support from the nonprofit Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum.

The center is the brainchild of Sanjay Malhotra, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology and of radiology at the School of Medicine, and his co-principal investigator, Kanury Rao, PhD, at the Translation Health Science and Technology Institute in India.

One of just five proposals selected by the forum in 2015 for funding as an Indo-U.S. Knowledge R&D Networked Joint Center, the Center for Integrative Biology of Non-Communicable Diseases comes with a starter grant of $72,000 to fund international travel and housing.

Of the 56 million people who die globally every year, more than 65 percent die of noncommunicable diseases. These include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. More than 90 percent of them are preventable.

The center will focus primarily on the biomolecular networks that link cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A common denominator of all these diseases is thought to be metabolic syndrome, which, some evidence suggests, promotes the development of noncommunicable diseases generally. For example, said Malhotra, one clue is that patients taking the Type 2 diabetes drug metformin appear to have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer.

“We want to know, ‘What are the common pathways that influence cancer, diabetes and heart disease?’” said Malhotra. “And how can we use that information to develop new therapies for these different yet somehow related diseases?”

The center can help researchers at Stanford find research partners in India with similar interests and complementary resources, he said. ­­

Looking ahead, it’s possible the center could help Stanford researchers gain access to databases of patient health information in India, he said. This access could open the doors to conducting studies that, for example, compare the epigenetic profiles of patients exposed to high levels of air pollution in cities to the profiles of matched relatives in rural villages.

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