Minnesota Partnership Awards Six New Research Grants

New treatments and diagnostics for Alzheimer’s and cancer dominate the 2017 research awards recently announced by the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics. The state-supported funding was distributed among seven research teams, based on competitive applications. Each team represents researchers from Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota.

“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,” says Eric Wieben, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic, program co-director for the Minnesota Partnership.

“The synergy between the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinical teams to attack these problems is notably impressive,” says the program co-director, Tucker LeBien, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota.

The six grants total just under $4 million.

Robust Connectome-based Biomarkers of Degenerating Brain Systems across the Alzheimer’s Disease Spectrum

This study plans to link the advanced clinical and imaging capabilities of Mayo Clinic Rochester and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota, to develop the most advanced tests possible for examining the health of brain networks, or connectomes. This study extends from before clinical symptoms are present through the later stages of dementia, presenting data in a way that is clinically meaningful for the entire disease process of Alzheimer’s. The ultimate goal of this project is to bring powerful new biomarkers to the field of Alzheimer’s disease research that can be used to develop treatments that target the disease before clinical symptoms are present and even before proteins begin to deposit in the brain.

Kamil Ugurbil, Ph.D., University of Minnesota,

David Jones, M.D., Mayo Clinic

Preventing Pancreatic Cancer with Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Imaging

This project explores the use of anew imaging technique to detect high-risk cystic pancreatic lesions before they progress to cancer. The researchers have developed a way to image this process in live mice by using a new pyruvate imaging probe with a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy. This will test if their method can detect high-risk pancreatic lesions in mice before they become cancerous and spread. Following steps will be to perform clinical trials in patients. If successful, this technique could prevent cancer in a subset of patients with high-risk pancreatic lesions.

Malgorzata Marjanska, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Stephanie Carlson, Mayo Clinic

Testing Susceptibility of ‘Dirty’ Mice to Induction of Asthmatic Disease and Lung Pathology

The CDC reports that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies and almost 25 million suffer from asthma – the leading chronic disease in American children. Researchers will be testing the “hygiene hypothesis”, which proposes that increased asthma and allergy susceptibility is a consequence of reduced exposure to natural infections, through improved sanitation and antibiotic use. Asthma and allergic diseases can be modeled in mice; however, lab mice are maintained in special facilities in which they are prevented from being exposed to microbes that infect mice in the wild. These researchers will use “dirty” mice to better model the human immune system allowing them to investigate how normal microbial infections affect immune-mediated diseases, including allergic asthma.

Stephen Jameson, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Hirohito Kita, M.D., Mayo Clinic

Molecular Functional Biomarker in Alzheimer’s Disease

The purpose of this project is to determine whether an abnormal form of a brain molecule can be measured to monitor disturbed communication between neurons in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers plan to measure a molecule called delta tau-314 in the brain, blood and spinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to study Dtau314, because blocking its formation may repair abnormalities in the brain which are preventing neurons from communicating with each other, causing cognitive problems. Dtau314 may also help diagnose disease and track response to therapies.

Karen Ashe, Ph.D., M.D., University of Minnesota

Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic

Genomic and Small Molecule Screens for Regulators of Liver Steatosis

Obesity is defined as the accumulation of excess fat in the body. A major complication of obesity is that the excess fat accumulates in many different tissues in addition to adipose tissue. Accumulation of fat in the liver, which is common in obesity, although it can occur independent of it, is the defining trait of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  Structurally, fat is stored in cells in the form of lipid droplets. Understanding how lipid droplets are degraded is a critical step in combating diseases such as NAFLD. This study will use state-of-the-art approaches to discover genes or drugs that regulate lipophagy to control the degradation of lipid droplets. By doing so, they hope to identify potential therapeutic targets for preventing or treating NAFLD and other diseases characterized by excess fat accumulation.

Douglas Mashek, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Mark McNiven, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic

Precision Medicine of Aromatase Inhibitors in Post-Menopausal Women with ER+ Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Approximately 40,000 women die annually from this disease. Estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer is the most common subtype, and the first line of treatment for this subtype is aromatase inhibitors (AIs). Resistance to AIs is a major reason for disease

recurrence and metastatic disease. 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 individual AIs, and how clinicians can use this information to better individualize AI therapy. By better understanding the biology and structure relationship between the drug and its targets, clinicians can design better therapeutic strategies to treat patients who might not respond well to AIs.

Michael Walters, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Liewei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic


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