Capacity-building sets stage for international research partnerships

Herd of sheep near mountains

Researchers at the University of Minnesota will soon come together with their counterparts from across Latin America to improve animal, human and environmental health through collaborative research.

This international network, launched through a two-year International Capacity Building grant from the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research and matched by endowed chair funds from the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, will serve as the framework for forming new research projects around subjects that can benefit both the U.S. and Latin America. The International Capacity Building funding provides for a project manager to support the development of grants and provide administrative assistance for research projects that focus on promoting aquaculture (farming fish or shellfish for food), supporting livestock health, curbing zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases and preserving ecosystems, as well as addressing the issues that lie where these four areas intersect.

The transdisciplinary effort will bring together U of M researchers from the colleges of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; Public Health; and Veterinary Medicine, as well as the corresponding experts from these fields in Central and South American research institutions.

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Bell Museum’s cooked wood highlights niche industry opportunity

Close-up of wooden planks

A few years ago, architecture firm Perkins+Will came to a conclusion while drawing plans for the new Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus: it was time to get cooking.

Now, following the architects’ design, workers are covering nearly half of the Bell’s exterior with Minnesota white pine that has been cooked in a giant kiln. The process, called thermal modification, is a chemical-free way to make wood more stable and water-resistant. Workers will finish installing the specialized wood in March, with the Bell Museum itself reopening in summer 2018.

The Bell project highlights an economic opportunity for Minnesota — and one where the Natural Resources Research Institute at the U of M Duluth plays a crucial role. Researchers involved in NRRI’s Wood Products and Bioeconomy initiative, which focuses on helping strengthen Minnesota’s forestry industry in an environmentally sound way, are leading research into the field of thermally modified wood. Continue reading

Bringing new drug therapies to life

A variety of pills

When the prescription drug abacavir, developed in University of Minnesota labs by Robert Vince, Ph.D., gained federal approval in 1998 and appeared on pharmacy shelves under the brand name Ziagen, it gave new hope to those with HIV. Today, the 1.2 million people the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates live with HIV nationwide have access to this treatment.

Bringing a breakthrough treatment like abacavir to the people who need it takes more than a groundbreaking scientific discovery — researchers must also work to refine their new treatments, bring them through clinical trials and help them reach the market.

Today, the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development (ITDD), founded by the  U’s College of Pharmacy in 2007, provides the expertise and instrumentation researchers need to bridge the gap between a compelling pharmaceutical idea and a market-ready drug treatment. The institute is a resource for the over 1000 biomedical researchers at the U of M and Mayo Clinic whose work may lead to the next breakthrough drug therapies. Continue reading

Streamlined system will improve, expedite human research oversight

Man working on laptop

A new online platform, over a year in the making, will go live next month to streamline and enhance oversight of research involving human participants at the University of Minnesota.

The Ethical Oversight Submission System, or ETHOS, is an online platform that allows researchers to submit applications to the U’s Institutional Review Board for review and approval. The system will cater to the nearly 10,000 faculty, staff and students involved in research with human participants, as well as to researchers conducting similar studies at Fairview Health Services and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, which both send studies for review at the U’s IRB.

ETHOS, run by the U’s Human Research Protection Program, uses software developed by Huron Consulting Group that has been adapted for use at U of M. Many prominent research universities — including Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University and Harvard University — use this software to handle submission, review, storage and communication related to studies that need IRB review and approval. Continue reading

The sound of music

Orchestra

Suppose a flute player and a bass player are playing a tune where they must hit notes simultaneously. A new University of Minnesota study suggests that if a high flute note comes a tad earlier than its bass counterpart, the audience probably won’t notice. But if the bass note comes early, they will.

Also, the ability to detect a lack of synchrony between a low note and a high note had nothing to do with whether either note came on the beat; all that mattered was the order in which the notes were played.

The study revealed quirks in how humans process and perceive musical sounds that have evolutionary significance. And because it concerns how the inner ear and brain work together, it could aid in the design of better hearing aids or cochlear implants.

“These surprising results have given us more insight into the complex interactions that occur between the ear and brain when we perceive sound,” says Andrew Oxenham, a psychology professor and study author.

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Highlights from a year of excellence in research

Collage of Annual Report story images

Last month, the University of Minnesota’s annual State of Research report highlighted a research enterprise that continues to grow, driven by greater diversification of funding sources and enhanced public-private partnership.

The report, produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research, also highlighted several ongoing research projects that are advancing knowledge across a wide variety of fields. These efforts are shedding light on youth brain function, boosting computing technology, exploring new mining processes and improving transportation systems.

Below, Inquiry explores each of these projects and their potential to benefit society. Continue reading

MnDRIVE: Innovation drives Minnesota forward

MnDRIVE advances the University of Minnesota’s research strengths through state investment to solve Minnesota’s greatest challenges.

During the current legislative session, the University will request funding from the state Legislature to expand MnDRIVE — or Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy — into four new research areas: fighting cancer, strengthening communities, cleaning water and advancing data.

Check out the video below to learn about highlights from current MnDRIVE research and to find out more about the program’s proposed expansion.

ApoGen receives $7 million investment for cancer therapy

Researcher in a lab

A University of Minnesota startup recently attracted a major investment to support continued development of drug therapies that make cancer treatments more effective.

ApoGen Biotechnologies Inc., launched in October 2014, announced last month that it had received $7 million from life science investment firm Accelerator Corporation to continue developing a new class of drugs that slows the evolution of cancer cells and to move these treatments toward clinical trials. ApoGen is based on discoveries by two U researchers: Reuben Harris, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics; and Daniel Harki, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. John Santini Jr., Ph.D., is the company’s president and CEO.

Cancer therapies often become less effective over time as cancer cells become resistant to treatment. ApoGen’s drugs are designed to block a key enzyme that causes drug resistance, potentially making current and future treatments more effective. Continue reading

Meet Allen Levine, interim VP for research

University of Minnesota flag outside of a building

Allen Levine, Ph.D., has more than a passing familiarity with the University of Minnesota’s research enterprise — in one capacity or another, he has been connected to the U for more than 45 years.

Levine, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition and adjunct in the Department of Psychiatry, began his role as the U’s new interim vice president for research this week. He previously served as vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, as well as dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. As head of the Office of the Vice President for Research, Levine will oversee the University’s $900 million research enterprise across all its campuses and facilities, including the administration of sponsored projects, research compliance and regulatory offices, and offices dedicated to economic development and technology commercialization.

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“In my new position, I look forward to keeping the University’s research enterprise moving forward and preparing the office for its next permanent director,” he said. “Since arriving, I have found the staff at OVPR to be knowledgeable and well suited to the important work they do for the U.” Continue reading

Forty years with tigers

Tiger in tall grass

Tiger at night, caught in a camera trap in Nepal. Photo credit: David Smith.

Few tiger biologists venture into dens to photograph and collect data on cubs. But University of Minnesota tiger researcher David Smith has done it twice, once with the mother just 200 yards away.

Using radio and GPS collars, Smith has tracked tigers for 40 years with one goal in mind: to achieve larger and more secure tiger populations by keeping their prey abundant and their habitat connected rather than patchy. This matters because top predators are critical to ecosystem health.

So are Smith’s graduate students. Most come from Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Taiwan or the Philippines. Degrees completed, they return home and mobilize local people for conservation efforts.

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Expanding the window for life-saving medical treatment

Rear view of paramedic's jacket

After a traumatic injury, every second counts. Whether wounded on the battlefield or hurt in a car crash, someone who has been severely injured needs to reach a hospital as soon as possible. But the farther away they are from one, the harder it is for first responders to get them there within the “golden hour” — the short window of time when life-saving medical treatments are most likely to succeed.

A drug therapy developed by three University of Minnesota researchers could extend this window, giving patients more time to reach the emergency room. The treatment, called BHB/M, is designed to be delivered by IV into the veins of someone suffering from hemorrhagic shock — when the body loses a severe and potentially fatal amount of blood — to help stop their organs from shutting down. Each year, between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the U.S. suffer from hemorrhagic shock. Greg Beilman, M.D., professor of surgery with the U of M Medical School and one of the BHB/M researchers, estimates that 45,000 to 60,000 of those people die from their severe blood loss.

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Spring 2017 Grant-in-Aid competition

The University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship Program promotes the research, scholarly and artistic activities of faculty and supports academic excellence throughout the University. Administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Grant-in-Aid program provides seed funding for a wide range of projects in five funding categories.

Timeline to apply:

Jan. 3, 2017     Start accepting applications
Feb. 6, 2017    Deadline for applications to be routed to approvers
Feb. 9, 2017    Deadline for approvers to submit final applications to OVPR

Visit Grant-in-Aid to learn more about the funding categories, eligibility requirements, how to apply and see samples of some exemplary proposals.

Questions? Contact the Research Advancement office: facgrant@umn.edu or 612-625-2356.