WWU chemistry professor receives $390,000 grant for hemophilia research

John Thompson
University Communications
  • Clint Spiegel (Chemistry)
    Clint Spiegel (Chemistry)

Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Clint Spiegel has been awarded a three-year, $390,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to research potential treatments for hemophilia A, a hereditary genetic blood disorder that affects millions of people around the world.

Patients with hemophilia A, the most common type of the disorder, have problems with their blood’s ability to clot or coagulate, which is the body’s natural defense to stop bleeding. Hemophilia is linked to a problem in the X chromosome and is far more likely to occur in males than females; approximately one in 5-10,000 males around the world has hemophilia A.

Spiegel’s research focuses on a protein involved in hemophilia A called the Factor VIII protein, which is deficient in patients with hemophilia A. Functional forms of Factor VIII are often used to treat hemophiliacs because of its ability to provide a short-term boost to the body’s ability to coagulate blood. Unfortunately, about 30 percent of those suffering from severe hemophilia A have antibodies in their systems which reject the Factor VIII protein, breaking it apart before it can assist the body in clotting and coagulation.

What Spiegel and his team of graduate and undergraduate chemists hope to find over the next three years is a way to make the Factor VIII protein more stable and active and potentially more able to overcome the immune response of these hemophiliacs, making an improved version of the Factor VIII treatment a viable choice for potentially millions of sufferers of this disorder. In addition, they will look for ways to make Factor VIII less attractive to the antibodies that work to reject the protein.

Spiegel said the research in the lab will involve crystallizing Factor VIII to look at its structures on a three-dimensional, atomic level and then using recombinant DNA techniques to make its protein structure tougher and more antibody-resistant.

“I’ve had an interest in this subject area since I was a graduate student at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; it’s something I’m very familiar with and have worked on for years,” said Spiegel. “There are also quite a few parallels between hemophilia research and heart disease research, and my father suffered from heart disease for more than 20 years, so I’ve got a personal interest in it as well.”

Many of Spiegel’s preliminary results for the grant were collected by Jake Herman of Kennewick, a graduating WWU senior who will begin work on his doctorate in Biochemistry at Colorado State this fall. This summer, Spiegel will be assisted by junior Kelsey Anderson of Mount Vernon; Rachel Werther, a Chemistry graduate student from Bellingham; and Julie Pohlman, a science teacher from Bellingham’s Sehome High School whose inclusion in the research team was made possible from a grant by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust’s Partners in Science program.

For more information on Spiegel’s research, contact him at (360) 650-3137 or spiegep@chem.wwu.edu.

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Monday, June 7, 2010 - 11:31am