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

MN-REACH seeks health care innovators for fourth funding cycle

Researchers who have developed cutting-edge medical technologies or pharmaceuticals can soon apply for funding to help bring those discoveries to market.

The University of Minnesota’s MN-REACH program, part of the National Institutes of Health’s Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs, is now entering its fourth funding cycle to help commercialize new med-tech and pharma inventions. MN-REACH aims to improve health care by fostering the development of breakthrough lab innovations — such as therapeutics, preventatives, diagnostics, devices and software tools — into products that create health, economic and societal benefits.

Researchers can submit pre-proposals from Thursday, July 14 through Friday, Aug. 12. Funding is available in the range of $10,000 to $150,000 per project. See the list of projects selected for MN-REACH funding during Cycle 1 and Cycle 2. Awardees of Cycle 3 grants will be announced later this month. Continue reading

VP Herman: Federal budget plan’s research boost a good start

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Research VP Herman

University of Minnesota Vice President for Research Brian Herman applauded the vision behind a 2017 federal budget plan released yesterday that would increase funding for research into major environmental, health and societal challenges. The additional funding, part of the $4.1 trillion overall spending plan President Barack Obama has sent to Congress, includes a government-wide investment in research and development that would help fuel discovery at public research institutions around the country.

“President Obama’s final budget plan provides a good starting point for ensuring that we at the University of Minnesota, along with other research universities, can continue to generate new knowledge and develop innovative ideas and technologies to tackle society’s greatest challenges,” said Herman. “Although the University of Minnesota is moving to a more diversified portfolio for research — in part to deal with long-term uncertainty around federal funding for research — funding from federal agencies still comprises more than half of sponsored research performed by our scientists and investigators. Continue reading

Student researchers must have NIH IDs by October

The National Institutes of Health will soon require student researchers to hold eRA Commons IDs to participate in NIH-funded projects for one person month or more.

Starting in October, NIH will begin rejecting any continuation progress reports (RPPRs and 2590 forms) that do not contain these IDs for graduate and undergraduate students. A notice issued in August 2013 contains details on the policy change.

In preparation for the change, the University of Minnesota’s Sponsored Projects Administration has established more than 1,200 new NIH Commons IDs over the past 10 months for students that departments have identified as fitting the criteria. Principal investigators can visit SPA’s website for instructions on obtaining IDs for students who still need them and for access to both the single- and multiple-ID request forms. Contact Robert Delutri, delut001@umn.edu, at SPA with any questions.

Brian Herman named VP for research

New VP for Research

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler announced today that Dr. Brian Herman will be the university’s next vice president for research. Herman will assume leadership of the university’s research enterprise on Jan. 1, 2013, subject to approval by the Board of Regents in December.

Herman comes to the university from the University of Texas (UT), where he has been serving as the Chancellor’s Health Fellow in Collaboration for the UT System and Special Assistant to the President for the UT Health Science Center for the past two years. He is a full professor of cellular and structural biology, receiving his doctorate from the University of Connecticut Health Science Center and postgraduate training from Harvard Medical School.

Herman is an internationally renowned researcher in the field of cell death and the applications of optical imaging technologies to the study of cellular, tissue, and organismal physiology and pathophysiology. He has received two NIH merit awards and served on multiple NIH and NSF study sections, including a four-year term on the NIH Cell, Development and Function-2 study section, two of which he served as chair. He has published over 450 papers, book chapters, and abstracts, edited 4 books, and trained 26 students and 27 postdoctoral fellows over his scientific career.

As the university’s chief research officer, Herman will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of research at the University of Minnesota’s five campuses, providing guidance and support to individual researchers and managing the university’s research enterprise. He will also be a member of the university’s senior leadership group.

Post by John Merritt

Originally published on Research @ the U of M.

Profile of Elizabeth Amin, MSI Fellow

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Deep in a basement under a Twin Cities campus library, Elmo, Itasca, and Blade are at work. They’re running high-level quantum calculations in the war against anthrax and other biological and chemical weapons, commanded by Elizabeth Amin.

Amin is an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry, and her three assistants are supercomputers. Blade, Itasca, and Elmo — each dressed in refrigerator-sized shiny black casings — live in a large, jammed room where the temperature fluctuates every few footsteps. They all work together in the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for Advanced Computational Research (MSI), uncovering clues in the search to find antidotes for the causative agents of biological weapons.

The mortality rate for inhalational anthrax is 100 percent if left untreated and approaches 50 percent with early and aggressive antibiotic treatment. The antibiotics kill the anthrax bacteria but have no effect on the lethal factor (LF) enzyme — the nasty agent in anthrax that is toxic to cells — and this toxin can remain in the body for days after the bacteria are gone.

Amin’s team hopes to engineer an antitoxin drug that can be deployed to a large population at any stage of anthrax infection. Such an antidote could be used by the military in the event of a biological terrorist attack, but also in civilian populations in the developing world and in veterinary applications.  She was recently awarded a $1.9 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue this research.

“I’m a medicinal chemist looking to mitigate the threat posed by chemical and biological warfare agents in the 21st century, while making some progress in basic scientific discovery along the way,” says Amin.

Amin’s research combines computational science, chemistry, and microbiology. The endgame, finding  countermeasures to chemical and biological warfare agents, is a compelling challenge in today’s world.

“My favorite thing about this job is not knowing which discoveries might be waiting for me when I come in every day,” she says.

In conversation, Amin often pauses to think and then speaks deliberately and passionately. It’s clear she could talk about her crusade against anthrax for hours.

Humming away in the MSI, Elmo, Itasca, and Blade help Amin carry out massive computations to identify new key starting points for possible drugs, and build a therapeutic from there. The computer simulations also allow the researchers to predict properties of drugs in living systems to see how they might work against anthrax in real-world situations. Amin’s team recently screened a database of about 35 million molecules, the largest and broadest anti-anthrax drug search to date.

“From this work we were able to identify five new key drug scaffolds that look like they are very promising,” Amin explains. “They have shown some significant activity, so we’re pursuing those as potential drug leads.”

Biological warfare agents are of particular interest to Amin, who comes from a family with a long tradition of U.S. military and civil service.

From a very young age, Elizabeth Amin has known that she wanted to make scientific discoveries. It was only a matter of deciding which discipline to pursue. As a child, she was interested in uncovering underlying structures and hidden patterns in nature.

“I enjoyed mixing and melting things,” she says. “Chemistry was a natural choice for me.  It also provided a solid foundation for me to explore other, related scientific disciplines. ”

After earning her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Missouri, Amin worked as an application scientist in the private sector. She came to the University to get back to her own research in 2004. She also teaches in the Master of Science in Security Technologies program and in the College of Pharmacy; she was chosen Professor of the Year in 2010 by the Pharm.D. class of 2012.

When she’s not fighting to secure the United States against terrorist attacks or nurturing the next wave of scientific pioneers, Amin enjoys flying as a private pilot. She’s also an avid “ham” radio operator who likes to tinker with vintage radio sets. She loves to uncover the complexities of the world around her and is excited to see her research help people.

“I consider it a privilege to be able to help support and protect those who are serving our nation now,” she said. “It is fascinating to work in an area where I can pursue key questions in basic science that involve multiple fields, including computational sciences, security technologies, biochemistry, veterinary medicine, and microbiology.”

Learn more about Elizabeth Amin’s work and MSI.

Post by Bridget Aymar; Veronica Hemmingsen also contributed to this story.

Originally published on Business @ the U of M.