Ann Arbor’s U-M to Invest $45M in Biosciences Research

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Five large bioscience projects and four small ones, all based at Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, will receive up to a combined $45 million from the school’s Biosciences Initiative grant. The multiyear initiative will include the hiring of 30 tenure-track faculty and a one-time investment of $150 million.

“We established the Biosciences Initiative to propel the University of Michigan to the forefront in critical areas of life science research. I am thrilled that our faculty have responded with groundbreaking proposals,” says Mark Schlissel, president of U-M. “Our first projects leverage U-M’s comprehensive excellence, catalyze hiring in the biosciences and related disciplines, and embrace our mission to conduct research for the benefit of society.”

The projects selected came from a pool of 28 proposals and include researchers from all U-M schools and colleges that work in the biosciences. They will provide startup funding to hire up to 14 new faculty members.

One of the large projects, Michigan Concussion Center, calls for the creation of a comprehensive U-M concussion research center through the recruitment of an additional epidemiologist, a neuroscientist, and a clinical interventionist. The researchers will use a multidisciplinary approach to answer questions about concussion prevention, identification, diagnosis, management, and outcomes.

Institute for Global Change Biology, another large project, seeks to understand the biosphere’s responses to human activities. Human-caused global changes include climate shifts, land-use conversion, release of pollutants, and species introductions. The new institute will foster research to understand and forecast the interactive effects of global change drivers on organisms and ecosystems. The new funding serves as a planning grant to launch the program. A larger, more comprehensive application will follow.

The third large project, Expanding Natural Products Drug Discovery at the University of Michigan, will create a natural products discovery program based on the collection of about 5,000 microbial strains collected from all over the world. The project will integrate some 40,000 microbial extracts into a high-throughput screening laboratory available to all U-M investigators. The new funding will enable recruitment of three new faculty and create a natural products discovery core lab to identify bioactivemetabolites. This initiative will also provide the synthetic biology and microbial engineering needed to optimize active compounds as discovery tools for potential drug development.

From Cells to Atoms – The Future of Cryo-electron Microscopy at the University of Michigan, is the fourth large project. Cryo-electron microscopy uses electrons to visualize frozen samples and is becoming a common technique for structural biologists. U-M was an early adopter of the technology. The funding will help U-M researchers expand their ability to visualize molecular machines inside intact cells using a developing approach called cryo-electron tomography.

The fifth large project, RNA Biomedicine: An Engine for Synergy, Excellence, and Global Leadership at Michigan, seeks to expand U-M’s nascent Center for RNA Biomedicine through the hiring of five faculty members, the creation of three core laboratories, and the funding of pilot and fellowship programs.

Exploratory funding grants of $100,000 each were awarded to the role of tissue barriers in health and disease, applying an innovative framework to improve health in rural populations, enabling single-cell and locus-specific chromatin proteomics at U-M, and establishing the U-M retargeting discovery platform.

In addition to the $45 million provided through the presidential initiative, $6.7 million will be contributed by the researchers’ home departments, schools, colleges, institutes, and centers.

Bioscience Initiative research grants will be awarded annually through fiscal year 2022, and all Ann Arbor campus faculty are eligible to participate. Letters of intent will be due in April 2019.

In related news, U-M researchers are taking part in a $30-million federally funded effort to understand and prevent toxic algal blooms. They are working to discover and characterize previously unknown toxins that may threaten human health and compounds that could serve as sources of medicines.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Science Foundation are funding the project. U-M researchers will work at the Lake Erie Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health, which was founded with a $5.2-million federal grant. The center is on Bowling Green State University’s campus, and Bowling Green is leading the research.

Eight other universities are working on the project at three centers, including the one at Bowling Green, which is the only center studying fresh water. The other two centers are based at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Florida Gulf Coast University.

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