We announced today the selection of the first five research organizations that will participate in the Florida Translational Research Program (FTRP) to advance drug discovery in the state. The projects focus on cancer, diabetes, and obesity, and are led by scientists from the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, the University of Miami, Scripps Florida, and a team of our own Lake Nona scientists. The Florida Department of Health and Sanford-Burnham established the FTRP as a competitive grant program that provides funding for collaborative drug discovery projects. The overall goal of the program is to translate research discoveries made in Florida laboratories into the medicines of tomorrow.
Space Florida to send two experiments from Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to the International Space Station
We’re excited to announce today that two of our research teams have won Space Florida’s International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. Eight teams were selected from a pool of international applicants to send experiments to space in late 2013. The competition was initiated by Space Florida, the state’s spaceport and aerospace authority, and NanoRacks, LLC. Sanford-Burnham’s research will fly as payloads to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and research will be conducted on board the U.S. National Lab at the ISS.
Here’s what the two teams are hoping to accomplish:
To survive, tumors need blood supply to provide them with nutrients and oxygen. To get that supply, cancer cells stimulate new blood vessel growth—a process called tumor angiogenesis. Many attempts have been made to inhibit this process as a means to choke off tumors. But tumor angiogenesis can be sloppy, resulting in immature and malformed blood vessels. Since anti-cancer drugs are carried to tumors by the bloodstream, abnormal blood vessel development also hampers delivery. What if, rather than putting a stop to angiogenesis, we could help tumor blood vessels mature more completely, so tumor-killing therapies could more effectively reach their targets? This counterintuitive concept was proposed several years ago, but researchers lacked a way to do it. Now, in a paper published August 14 in the journal Cancer Cell, Sanford-Burnham researchers found a molecule that promotes the tumor vessel maturation process—a discovery that might provide a method for improving cancer drug delivery.
“Our finding suggests that an ability to regulate this molecule could allow us to solve various problems caused by blood vessel abnormalities, including inefficient drug delivery to tumors,” said Masanobu Komatsu, Ph.D., associate professor at Sanford-Burnham and senior author of the study.
We hosted a special visitor last week – U.S. Representative Sandra (Sandy) Adams, of Florida’s 24th Congressional District, where our Lake Nona, Orlando, campus is located. The congresswoman was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and will run again for the newly redrawn 7th District this year. She took a tour of the facility and spoke to Drs. Steve Gardell, Phil Wood, and Sheila Collins about the exciting research taking place in Lake Nona.
Sanford-Burnham’s vice president of government affairs, Elizabeth Gianini, welcomed the congresswoman to the Institute and Dr. Gardell took her on a tour of the drug discovery suite, which includes the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, the Pharmacology Core, and the Medicinal Chemistry Core, explaining the Institute’s role in finding targets that could aid in the development of new therapeutics. Dr. Wood walked her through his lab and spoke about his team’s research into metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Rep. Adams then met with Dr. Collins, who explained her research into brown fat cells and the role of heart hormones in fat metabolism.
As summer begins, books get shelved and schools close, but for many teens and young adults, leaving the classroom doesn’t mean learning stops. On the contrary, they pursue internships that allow them to advance their education in a hands-on way, often taking steps toward a career.
Sanford-Burnham opens its doors to a large number of interns, at various stages of their education, throughout the year, but summer is an especially busy time. The enthusiastic voices of young people, some making their own scientific discoveries for the first time, emanate through the hallways, reminding everyone how exciting science can be.
Last week, Sanford-Burnham at Lake Nona in Orlando welcomed five students from area high schools including Trinity Preparatory School and Seminole High School. Forty students participating in a Junior Achievement summer program visited the institute to learn about medical research career paths. Each one is paired with a mentor in a research laboratory or the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics for two to four weeks. Eight college interns will soon be arriving as well. Throughout the summer, a number of aspiring scientists will be scattered throughout the Institute’s La Jolla laboratories for anywhere from one week to the entire summer.
Last week, the University of Florida (UF) and the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator published the first edition of its new Florida’s BioPulse report, which shows the increasing impact of the bioscience industry on Florida’s economy. Even though major life-science clusters—such as Jupiter, Port St. Lucie, and Lake Nona’s Medical City in Orlando—didn’t exist five years ago, Florida’s bioscience industry has shown an impressive growth and resilience despite the recent recession.
“It’s incredible to see how the bioscience and medical research sector has grown over the last few years here in Florida. Lake Nona’s Medical City has been a cornerstone of this development from the beginning,” said Thad Seymour, vice president and general manager of Health & Life Sciences at Lake Nona’s Medical City and president of bioOrlando. “The BioPulse report confirms what we have experienced ourselves—that Florida is a great place to be for bioscience companies and researchers.”
The White House yesterday announced a new initiative aimed at connecting—and better utilizing—super-fast Internet networks across the country. The initiative, called U.S. Ignite, is intended to encourage a new technology boom by bringing together more than 100 groups, from local communities to academic researcher centers, to develop new approaches to taking advantage of networks that run 100 times faster than today’s Internet. Orlando’s Lake Nona community, home to Medical City and Sanford-Burnham’s Florida site, is one of the groups in the partnership.
The U.S. Ignite initiative is designed to link university campuses, research networks, and broadband cities by leveraging previous investments in network infrastructure. It will also encourage experimentation on public sector applications and services and initiate public-private partnerships between industry, foundations, and community partners.
By Darrin Kuystermans
It’s always a pleasure to get the opportunity to highlight Sanford-Burnham’s research to visitors coming to the Institute. I’m from the Netherlands and on April 18 I had the special honor of giving the Dutch Consul-General, Ambassador Simone Filippini, a tour of our facilities at Lake Nona. The Ambassador was touring Orlando’s Medical City to learn about the region’s emerging biomedical cluster and opportunities to grow the United States-Netherlands trade and investment in the biomedical/biotechnology sector.
Ambassador Filippini is no stranger to Florida and its economy, being based at the Dutch Consulate in Miami, which is in charge of several southern U.S. states in addition to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Cayman Islands. The Consul-General can have a great impact on stimulating inter-country business development, especially since the U.S. and the Netherlands share so many common values, history, and a commitment to innovation.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer in which melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin, keep growing even when they shouldn’t. More than 100,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and almost 80 percent of melanoma patients die from their disease, making melanoma the most deadly type of cancer. Because melanoma can spread very quickly, early detection and treatment give patients the best chance for survival.
The development of melanoma involves a complex interplay between environmental factors and alterations in gene expression (the way genes are turned on or off). While exposure to UV radiation is a key risk factor for melanoma development, it’s unclear how UV radiation influences which genes are turned on or off in skin cells—a process known as gene expression. This is exactly the question that interests Ranjan J. Perera, Ph.D., scientific director of Analytical Genomics and Bioinformatics and associate professor in the Diabetes and Obesity Research Center at Sanford-Burnham in Lake Nona, Orlando.
Education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is more important than ever as it creates the next generation of critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the innovators of tomorrow in an ever-more globalized world. Innovation, in turn, leads to new developments and processes that drive our economy. But, as we all know, STEM courses are not necessarily among the most popular ones in schools or colleges across the nation. Recent surveys have shown that the United States is falling behind other countries when it comes to math skills and other STEM-related indicators. This is especially true for minority students.
The STEM Pipeline Program was initiated to help overcome this shortfall. The program’s goal is to encourage African-American and other underrepresented students to consider an education and, eventually, a career in STEM fields. The program is an innovative collaboration between the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Sanford-Burnham at Lake Nona in Orlando, Akerman Senterfitt, and the Central Florida Medical Society. It offers mentorships and in-classroom career information about STEM education at Central Florida middle and high schools with diverse populations. The program also fosters further student development by offering four-summer internships at Sanford-Burnham to qualified students pursuing a STEM major.
It’s well known that exercising reduces body weight because it draws on fat stores that muscle can burn as fuel. But a new study at Sanford-Burnham suggests that the heart also plays a role in breaking down fat. In their study, published February 6 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Sheila Collins, Ph.D. and colleagues detail how hormones released by the heart stimulate fat cell metabolism. These hormones turn on a molecular mechanism similar to what’s activated when the body is exposed to cold and burns fat to generate heat. This study adds another dimension to our understanding of how the body regulates fat tissue and may someday lead to new ways to manipulate the process with drugs to reduce weight in obese patients or maintain it in individuals who experience pathological weight loss during chronic heart failure.
“Exercise is always going to raise your blood pressure some, so there’s the potential that these heart hormones—called cardiac natriuretic peptides—are being released and contributing to the breakdown of fats,” said Collins, professor in the Diabetes and Obesity Research Center at Sanford-Burnham’s Lake Nona campus in Orlando and senior author of the study. “Over a period of time, natriuretic peptides could also be leading to an increase in the numbers of brown fat cells, which we know are very important for protection against diet-induced obesity, at least in laboratory experiments.”
Each January, John Reed, Sanford-Burnham’s CEO, reviews the accomplishments of the previous year in his State of the Institute address, which he presents to our community at both our Orlando and San Diego locations. This year, he reflected not just on 2011, but on the past decade. It was 10 years ago—in January 2002—that Reed was first named CEO. An accomplished scientist in his own right, Reed has led the Institute during a period of tremendous growth.