Alzheimer’s, Cancer Research is Focus in Latest Round of State-Funded Research Grants

‘Minnesota Partnership’ seeks to develop pipeline of biotech startups, job creation.

Alzheimer’s, Cancer Research is Focus in Latest Round of State-Funded Research Grants
In the state-backed push to grow new high-paying jobs and startup companies in the biotech sector, a good indicator of where the advances are likely to come is by examining the early-stage research funding handed out by the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics.
Formed in 2003 as a collaborative venture among Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota, the idea of the venture is to elevate the state’s position in the world of bioscience research, thereby creating what its backers describe as a “pipeline for dynamic new businesses and quality jobs.”
The latest round of awards, totaling $4 million, were announced in August, and it was dominated by two biomedical fields with considerable commercialization potential: Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
“These are seed grants, aimed at providing innovative researchers the means to get a scientific project off the ground and on the way toward a possible new treatment,” Eric Wieben of the Mayo Clinic and co-director for the Minnesota Partnership said in an issued statement.
Below is a brief description of each of the seed-funding awards given to Mayo and U of M researchers. 
Finding new biomarkers for a broad spectrum of degenerative brain diseases
Researchers: Kamil Ugurbil, University of Minnesota; Dr. David Jones, Mayo Clinic
This study will link the advanced clinical and imaging capabilities of Mayo Clinic and the U of M’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. The goal is to develop the most advanced tests possible for examining the health of brain networks, or “connectomes.” It extends from before clinical symptoms are present through the later stages of dementia, collecting data in a way that is clinically meaningful for the entire disease process of Alzheimer’s.
Preventing pancreatic cancer with magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging
Researchers: Malgorzata Marjanska, University of Minnesota; Stephanie Carlson, Mayo Clinic
The aim of this project is to explore the use of a new imaging technique to detect high-risk cystic pancreatic lesions before they progress to cancer. The U of M/Mayo research team has developed a way to image this process in live mice by using a new pyruvate imaging probe with a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The next stage would be to perform clinical trials in patients.
Testing susceptibility of ‘dirty’ mice to induction of asthmatic disease
Researchers: Stephen Jameson, University of Minnesota; Dr. Hirohito Kita, Mayo Clinic
With more than 50 million Americans suffering from allergies and around 25 million more affected by asthma, these researchers are testing the “hygiene hypothesis,” which theorizes that increased asthma and allergy susceptibility is a consequence of reduced exposure to natural infections, happening due to improved sanitation and antibiotic use. This U of M/Mayo team will use “dirty” lab mice – that is, lab mice exposed to microbes that infect wild mice -- to better model the human immune system.
Molecular functional biomarker in Alzheimer’s disease
Researchers: Dr. Karen Ashe, University of Minnesota; Dr. Ronald Petersen, Mayo Clinic
This project seeks to determine whether an abnormal form of a brain molecule can be measured to keep track of disturbed communication between neurons in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers team will measure a molecule called delta tau-314 in the brain, blood and spinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Dtau314 may also help diagnose disease and track response to therapies.
Screening for liver steatosis using genomics and small molecules
Researchers: Douglas Mashek, University of Minnesota; Mark McNiven, Mayo Clinic
The object of this study is to fight non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by using state-of-the-art approaches to discover genes or drugs that can regulate lipophagy—the accumulation of fat in the liver. The goal is to control the degradation of lipid droplets, which is a critical step in combating diseases such as NAFLD. The research team hopes to identify potential therapeutic targets for preventing or treating NAFLD and other diseases characterized by excess fat accumulation.
Using precision medicine study individual resistance to ER+ breast cancer inhibitors
Researchers: Michael Walters, University of Minnesota; Dr. Liewei Wang, Mayo Clinic
Why do some women with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer respond to the use of aromatase inhibitors – the first line of defense against the disease – but others don’t? ER+ cancer is the most common subtype of breast cancer, killing approximately 40,000 women annually. Researchers from the U of M and Mayo plan to use various techniques to study how and why DNA sequence differences between two individuals would affect response to aromatase inhibitors, and how clinicians can use this information to better individualize this kind of therapy.
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