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Recovery Act dollars are stimulating research at the Medical College of Georgia

It's a $1.8 million shot in the arm to the largest grant the Medical College of Georgia has ever received.

The two-year stimulus funding, provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is expediting two national diabetes research initiatives managed by MCG: one developing animal models to study diabetes complications, the other offering an array of sophisticated animal tests and procedures to scientists studying a disease that can wreak lifelong habit.

"The data are growing daily. We average 2, 000 to 3,000 hits a week for each Web site," said Dr. Richard A. McIndoe, associate director of MCG's Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine and manager of the Animal Models of Diabetic Complications Consortium and the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Centers.

Mounting interest in the initiatives and the huge amount of data they are generating including more than 70 mice models required updating computer servers to support the increasingly mammoth undertaking.

"Things were getting a little slow," said Dr. McIndoe who was able to secure the two-year, $1.8 million stimulus grant to help speed things up. Stimulus dollars also are enabling him to devote a greater percentage of his time to the burgeoning projects. A half-million dollars supported a pilot program of the complication-related initiative that supports the final stage of developing an animal model, an important scientific step that tends not to attract National Institutes of Health dollars. Remaining stimulus dollars will fund equipment and personnel at the mouse metabolic phenotyping centers at Case Western Reserve University, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Yale University School of Medicine.

All told, MCG has secured 28 stimulus grants totaling $8.1 million. Dr. McIndoe's stimulus grant supplements his $15 million NIH grant to support the Coordinating and Bioinformatics Units for the two initiatives.

It's the kind of math MCG officials like to hear. "The stimulus funding is an essential bridge for MCG and other research-intensive universities in fiscal year 2010," said Dr. Doug Miller, MCG's senior vice president for health affairs and School of Medicine dean. "It connects a recently flat NIH budget in fiscal year 2009 to a bigger NIH budget in 2011. It also bridges our successful MCG research programs by keeping teams of scientists who are working on important health discoveries fully employed."

MCG's extramural research funding has increased 33 percent during six years of essentially flat NIH budgets, according to Dr. Frank Treiber, MCG vice president for research development. "In fiscal year 2008 we showed a 13% growth and last year we showed a 14% increase for a record $83.8 million, including a 30 percent increase in NIH funding."

Extramural funding in the first quarter of fiscal 2010 is already 6.5% higher than that of the same period in fiscal 2009, with stimulus funds contributing significantly to the strong first quarter.

The boost is important from an economic perspective as well since Georgia's academic health centers, such as MCG, pump $10.9 billion into the state's economy annually and employ more than 81,000 people, Dr. Miller added.

Stimulus dollars also are helping Dr. Arun Sreekumar in MCG's Cancer Center employ some innovative measures to determine the pathways of prostate cells and the missteps they take to become cancer. The comprehensive look should lead to better detection and treatment planning for the disease. For instance, no treatment may be the best treatment when the disease is slow growing and appears later in life.

Drs. Sreekumar and George Michailidis, a bioinformatics expert at the University of Michigan, want to develop the computational tools that will enable them to compare the ton of data they already have from 42 men with healthy prostates or more benign and aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Data include the genes involved, the proteins the genes make and the metabolites, which suggest which proteins were active. Previously scientists have had snippets of one of more of these compartments, but Dr. Sreekumar and others believe a comprehensive look is needed to get a clear picture of prostate cancer progression.

"There is a lot of crosstalk between genes, proteins and metabolites," he said. "They act, not only independently, they also affect each other. It's like an industry," he said. "You don't want to look at the cell from only one angle. You are really trying to understand the cell, the way it is functioning. When the situation is this complex, you really can't do it any other way."

That means ensuring they are comparing apples to apples. "You have to (determine) a common identifier, so we can say, 'Yes this protein can be compared to this gene,' or 'This metabolite can be compared to this protein,'" Dr. Sreekumar said.

These head-on comparisons should also help scientists identify the most significant missteps, likely the best targets for new therapies.

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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