The University Record, June 17, 2002

Life Sciences awarded state dollars for health research

By Karl Leif Bates
Life Sciences Institute

Seven U-M projects were awarded a total of $15.3 million in the latest round of grant funding from the Michigan Life Science Corridor (MLSC). The three-year grants are part of a statewide 20-year effort to advance life sciences research and the commercialization of cutting-edge healthcare products.

U-M researchers will be using the latest corridor grants to pursue projects such as helping the elderly retain their physical mobility and balance, looking for ways to regenerate damaged nerves, understanding the links between obesity and diabetes, and finding ways to make cancer treatment more specific and more effective.

“The state’s corridor funding continues to support research here at U-M that will lead to healthier lives for all Michigan citizens,” said Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research. “Diabetes, cancer and the loss of mobility with aging are problems that many of us will face, but these grants from the tobacco settlement money are helping to find some answers.”

Corridor grants for U-M research total $8.9 million in this round of funding:

  • $3.1 million to establish the Proteomics Alliance for Cancer, to be headed by Gil Omenn, executive vice president for medical affairs and professor of internal medicine, and Samir Hanash, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases. The alliance will be advancing technology for rapidly analyzing proteins found in the blood plasma and biopsies of breast cancer and lung cancer patients. In particular, they hope to identify specific molecules that will help distinguish different sub-types of cancer.

  • $3.8 million to the Institute of Gerontology to study how and why exercise improves the strength and mobility of elderly people. “At any age, exercise will help you regain strength, but nobody knows exactly how it works,” explained Gerontology Institute Director Bruce Carlson, professor of cell and developmental biology.

  • $3.54 million to the Michigan Diabetes Research Consortium, which pools resources and expertise among diabetes researchers at Wayne State, U-M and Michigan State. They will study the links between obesity and diabetes, a problem that has become a global epidemic.

  • $1.02 million to a group led by Daniel Goldman, professor of biological chemistry and research scientist in the Mental Health Research Institute for producing genetically engineered zebra fish in which the nervous system glows green as it is developing. When an area of an adult fish’s nervous system is damaged, the glow resumes as nerve repair is performed.

  • $934,000 for improving the diagnosis of kidney damage earlier in the course of diabetes and high blood pressure, led by David Kurnit, professor of genetics and pediatrics.

    The Corridor also granted $14.7 million in additional funding for the Core Technology Alliance (CTA), an innovative network of five specialized fee-for-service labs, which provide sophisticated technology to researchers at universities and private-sector firms across the state. U-M is home to two of the five CTA labs, though each lab has “nodes” on other campuses as well. The U-M-based Michigan Center for Biological Information, which is applying information technology to biological research, received a $2.4 million grant in this round of funding. The U-M-based Michigan Proteome Consortium, which is analyzing protein structure and function in living cells, received a $3 million grant.

    An additional $960,000 in corridor support is going toward a cooperative effort between technology transfer initiatives at U-M, Wayne State, MSU and the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. The four institutions that form the Life Sciences Corridor are pooling resources to build a database of information for startup companies, and coordinate their policies and procedures for transferring technology.

    The state of Michigan has committed $1 billion over 20 years from its tobacco settlement money to energize the life sciences industry. Michigan’s goal is to use these funds as a long-term investment in the health of the state’s citizens, and to be among the top five states in the nation in life sciences-related employment by 2010.

    The review of more than 100 funding proposals for this round of corridor grants was overseen by the Michigan Life Sciences Steering Committee and conducted by the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publishers of Science magazine. In all, 18 projects will share about $45 million in funding from this round of grants.

    “The projects that were funded all have strong commercial potential,” Ulaby said. “The Life Sciences Corridor is an excellent investment in creating new businesses and new jobs in the state.”

    For more information about the Michigan Economic Development Council and the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor, visit www.michigan.org.