Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Biden: U-M transforming economy through innovation

Two U-M researchers were honored Tuesday by Vice President Joe Biden for “transforming the American Economy through innovation” to accelerate significant advances in science and technology.

The White House honored U-M autism researcher Catherine Lord and School Public Health (SPH) investigator Goncalo Abecasis, along with other researchers and business people gathered at the White House Executive Office Building.

The White House also issued a 48-page report detailing work supported by $100 billion in grants aimed toward innovative and transformative programs as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Investment Act. Details are available at

“From the beginning, we have been a nation of discovery and innovation — and today we continue in that tradition as Recovery Act investments pave the way for game-changing breakthroughs in transportation, energy and medical research,” Biden said.

“We’re planting the seeds of innovation, but private companies and the nation’s top researchers are helping them grow, launching entire new industries, transforming our economy and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”

Lord, director of the Autism and Communication Disorders Center and professor of psychology and psychiatry, was recognized for her work to make health care more accessible and affordable by transforming the way children are tested for autism.

Currently, a trained medical doctor must administer a three-hour test at a cost of more than $1,200. Lord’s U-M team is working with the help of Recovery Act funds to cut that down to a half-hour test that could be administered by a nurse or social worker, which would significantly cut costs.

Abecasis and his SPH colleagues are using stimulus funding to support work to greatly simplify and reduce the cost of human genome technology.

Abecasis noted the first Human Genome project, led by a former U-M researcher, cost $2.7 billion a decade ago and today a complete sequence costs about $50,000. U-M is working to cut that cost to about $1,000 so that human genome sequences could eventually “be used widely in health care.” Patients could be tested years in advance to begin preventive treatment of diseases before they occur.

“It was certainly nice to hear the Vice President talk about autism and to meet other scientists in a number of fields,’’ Lord said after leaving the White House ceremony. “We’re trying to make autism easier to treat and diagnose which would improve health care and make it more affordable.”

Biden and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu invited the U-M researchers and representatives from more than two dozen companies and research institutions that are leveraging Recovery Act investments.

They said the Recovery Act is putting the nation “on track to achieve four major innovation breakthroughs that will keep America competitive in the 21st century economy.” Major progress cited by the White House included efforts to:

• Cut the cost of solar power in half between by 2015.

• Cut the cost of batteries for electric vehicles by 70 percent between 2009 and 2015.

• Double U.S. renewable energy generation capacity and U.S. renewable manufacturing capacity by 2012.

• Bring down the cost of a personal human genome map to under $1,000 in five years.