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Updated 2:30 PM July 7, 2005




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Tri-Corridor awards $5.1M to four U-M life sciences projects

Four U-M research projects focusing on cancer, infertility, lung disease and multiple sclerosis have received funding from the latest round of the Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor Fund competition.

The projects were awarded $5.1 million of the $27.3 million granted to 24 life sciences projects across the state. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation awards grants using money from the 1998 national tobacco settlement.

The effort to create new companies and jobs through funding life sciences research formerly was known as the Life Sciences Corridor, but expanded under Gov. Jennifer Granholm to include homeland defense and automotive technology.

This year's Tri-Corridor grants went exclusively to life sciences projects.

The University's largest award was for the Proteomics Alliance for Cancer Research—headed by Professor Gilbert Omenn—which received a $2.4 million grant to continue the work of identifying proteins that can lead to earlier diagnosis, and more targeted and effective treatment of specific kinds of cancers. The alliance will apply new technologies for rapidly analyzing proteins found in the blood plasma and in tumor cells from lung cancer and prostate cancer patients, says Omenn, professor of internal medicine, human genetics and public health.

The alliance includes two Michigan companies—Proteome Research Services of Ann Arbor and GeneGo of New Buffalo/St. Joseph—the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, and faculty from multiple departments in the Medical School, College of Engineering and LSA.

Shuichi Takayama, biomedical engineer, and Gary D. Smith, director of the U-M Assisted Reproductive Technologies Laboratory, received a $957,000 grant to further develop their self-contained in vitro fertilization machine. The pair already has formed a company, Incept BioSystems, to develop and market an automated device that handles fertilization and pre-implantation incubation of human embryos, jobs currently done with a lot of manual labor and trial-and-error.

Dr. James Shayman, professor of internal medicine and pharmacology and associate chair for research in internal medicine, received a $950,403 grant to further his lab's work on flaws in the cell's ability to chew up and destroy proteins it no longer needs. There are many diseases that result from the buildup of undigested proteins in the cell, but Shayman's group particularly is interested in the process that leads to a lung disease called alveolar proteinosis, in which the lungs become lined in a fatty film because cells aren't properly breaking down fats and disposing of them.

In a partnership with Kalamazoo startup companies Proteos and Pharmoptima, researchers will look to understand the disorder in more detail, with the hope of developing a screen that drug companies could use to look for the side effect in new drugs.

Biomedical engineer Michael Mayer received $871,000 to develop a system for early blood-testing diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative nervous system disease. Current diagnosis of the disease requires neurological symptoms to be quite advanced, but there is evidence that early intervention can slow the degenerative process.

Mayer, assistant professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, is working with Ann Arbor company Essen Instruments to develop a device that screens blood samples for over-activity in a particular kind of white blood cell.

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