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U-M life scientists receive $5.1 million from economic development grants Cancer Center researcher gets largest chunk

added 6/24/05

Ann Arbor, MI. -- Four research projects at the University of Michigan have received funding from the latest round of the Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor (MTTC) Fund competition. The Michigan projects include research on cancers, infertility, lung disease and multiple sclerosis. The U-M projects were awarded $5.1 million of the total of $27.3 million granted to 24 life sciences projects across the state. The state’s Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) awards the grants using money from the national tobacco settlement.

This effort to create new companies and jobs through funding life sciences research was formerly known as the Life Sciences Corridor, but expanded to include homeland defense and automotive technology under Gov. Jennifer Granholm. This year’s Tri-Corridor grants went exclusively to life sciences projects.

U-M’s largest award was for the Proteomics Alliance for Cancer Research, headed by U-M professor Gil Omenn, M.D. Ph.D., which received a $2.4 million grant to continue its work identifying proteins that can lead to earlier diagnosis and more targeted, more 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," said Omenn, a Cancer Center member who is a 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 U-M Medical School, College of Engineering and College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

Biomedical engineer Shuichi Takayama, Ph.D., and Gary D. Smith, Ph.D., director of the U-M Health System’s Assisted Reproductive Technologies Laboratory and of the Cancer Center's Fertility Counseling and Gamete Cryopreservation program, received a $957,000 grant to further development of their self-contained in vitro fertilization machine. The pair have already formed a company, Incept BioSystems, to develop and market an automated device which handles fertilization and pre-implantation incubation of human embryos, jobs which are currently done with a lot of manual labor and trial-and-error.

The heart of their device is a matchbook-sized piece of clear plastic containing many fine channels that more closely mimics the dimensions and flows of the human reproductive system. The device can also provide some rudimentary chemical testing of embryos to help select those most fit for implantation into the mother’s womb.

Dr. James Shayman, a 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 is particularly interested in the process that leads to a lung disease called alveolar proteinosis, in which the lungs become lined in a fatty film because the lung cells aren’t properly breaking down fats and disposing of them. The condition occurs naturally, but is also a prevalent side effect of many different kinds of drugs.

In partnership with two Kalamazoo startup companies, Proteos and Pharmoptima, the project will be looking 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, 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 of MS. Mayer, an assistant professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, is working with an Ann Arbor company called Essen Instruments to develop a device that screens blood samples for over-activity in a particular kind of white blood cell.

The jury of scientists judging proposals actually doubled the Mayer group’s request. “We got quite lucky!” he said.


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