Minnesota Partnership awards 5 collaborative research grants

Diabetes, stress-induced aging and Alzheimer’s disease, immigration-related obesity, and implantable drug testing devices are the targets of the research awards from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics in 2019. This marks the partnership’s 16th year of spearheading new scientific ideas from Minnesota to improve health care for Minnesotans. The state-funded grants for these team science proposals total nearly $5.2 million.

The five teams will initiate collaborative two-year projects that could transform the treatment of diseases that affect Minnesotans. Projects are selected based on the quality and rigor of the proposed research, importance of the medical need and potential of future commercialization. Each team includes investigators from Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota. One requirement is that the projects must be truly collaborative. That is, these projects could not be pursued by either institution alone.

The award-winning projects and awardees for 2019 are:

  • “Generation and Immune Protection of PD-L1 Designer Islets for the Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes” (Brian Fife, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Quinn Peterson, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic)
    This team aims to develop a cell replacement therapy to restore insulin-producing pancreatic islet beta cells and reduce autoimmune attacks on tissue. Researchers will develop designer islet beta cells and arm these cells with molecules to protect them from attack by the immune system. Concept testing would occur first in animal models before potentially applying to human beta cells prior to transplant. The application shows promise as a cure for, and prevention of, Type 1 diabetes.
  • “Stress-Induced Exacerbation of Senescence-Associated Diseases” (Alessandro Bartolomucci, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic)
    The researchers will study senescent or malfunctioning cells in an individual’s tissues and organs to help determine the root causes of aging and age-related diseases. Experiments in mice indicate that drugs that kill senescent cells extend a healthy life span and protect against atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. The team will explore whether stress-induced senescent cells explain why those subject to psychosocial stress are increasingly prone to develop chronic diseases. The goal is to develop innovative treatments to prolong life and promote healthy aging.
  • “Retinal Hyperspectral Imaging: A Tool for Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease” (Swati Moore, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and John Chen, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic)
    This team will focus on determining whether the retina — a developmental extension of the brain — can be used as a biomarker to identify and evaluate patients with preclinical and symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. The study proposes to unite hyperspectral camera imaging — using the spectrum of each pixel —  developed at the University of Minnesota with two Mayo patient cohorts to monitor retinal changes. The study will compare the retinal scans with brain scans and dementia severity. The long-term goal is to develop a noninvasive, inexpensive population screening diagnostic tool that can detect early Alzheimer’s disease.
  • “Targeting the Gut Microbiome to Prevent the Increasing Incidence of Obesity in Immigrant Populations” (Dan Knights, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Purna Kashyap, M.B.B.S., Mayo Clinic)
    The team aims to investigate whether changes in gut microbiome composition following immigration to the U.S. are important contributors to higher obesity rates among Hmong and Karen populations. A key component of the study is to collaborate with West Side (Minneapolis) Community Health Services to partner with Hmong and Karen communities. The goal is to gain insight into how one’s metabolism changes after immigration, and implement dietary and therapies in local immigrant populations to curb obesity rates.
  • “Defining Parameters and Performance Specifications for an Implantable CNS Drug Testing Device” (William Elmquist, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Terence Burns, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic)
    Researchers will study patients with glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor with no established cure. They will employ an implantable multicatheter device, which will allow for simultaneous drug delivery and assessment of effectiveness. The proposed technology can significantly affect advancing knowledge and understanding of central nervous system diseases, with a goal of accelerating the development of new therapies.