Biotechnology

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Medical Industry Leadership Institute

Event will Spotlight the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Health Care

August 16, 2018

On Oct. 3, the the Medical Industry Leadership Institute at the Carlson School of Management will host the Convene conference, which aims to bring together university researchers and the health care industry. This year's focus is artificial intelligence; the keynote speaker is Dr. Peter Pronovost, Chief Medical Officer of United Healthcare, who will discuss the "Journey to High Value Healthcare." Also featured is John Hammergren, CEO of McKesson Corporation; he'll be joined by Prof. Stephen Parente to discuss health case and data analytics. University of Minnesota faculty, staff, students and alumni are eligible for discounted tickets -- learn more and register here

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Genetically modified yeast organism

BioTech Institute Scientists Engineer Self-Destructing GMOs

January 29, 2018

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to help prevent the spread of diseases and increase both crop yields and nutritional value, but according to an article in Science Alert, "There's a big problem. . . . When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate?" Synthetic biologist Maciej Maselko of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member, is leading a team to solve this problem. Prof. Maselko's researchers have used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter yeast microbes so they're genetically incompatible and incapable of mating with their non-GMO counterparts. They call this approach "synthetic incompatability," and it's a technique that could be used in a multitude of ways, including to curb invasive carp or increase the production of medicines derived from plants. Read the entire article here

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Vercise deep brain stimulation device

Key Parkinson's Brain Stimulation Research Led by U, Funded by MnDRIVE

January 10, 2018

A brain stimulation device just approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was developed as part of a multi-site clinical study led by University of Minnesota medical researchers and partly funded by the MnDRIVE program. According to Twin Cities Businessneurology department chair Dr. Jerrold Vitek and his research team successfully implanted the first non-trial patient with the Vercise system at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in December. The device is manufactured by Boston Scientific, and has been hailed as “one the most innovative neuromodulation technologies available today.” Deep brain stimulation is used to reduce the involuntary shaking and stiffness that are among the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. MnDRIVE – Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy – is a partnership between the University and the State of Minnesota that aligns areas of research strength with the state’s key and emerging industries. One of of MnDRIVE's areas of focus is the treatment of brain conditions; the others are robotics, global food and the environment. 

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Lakes seen from the air

New Assessment Tool Will Help Improve Water Quality in Lakes and Streams

November 27, 2017

A team led by Michael Sadowsky, PhD, has created a tool designed to help public health officials better understand sources of contamination in our waterways. Sadowsky, a microbiologist, is the director of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 40% of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are impaired, with fecal contamination becoming a growing concern. Improved DNA sequencing technology has made it possible for researchers to identify the source of contamination, which should allow for identification of the pollutant at its source. Sadowsky's group used SourceTracker, a software program developed by the UMN’s Knights Lab, to compare the various organisms found in water samples. To learn more, click here

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CoreBiome

New U Spinoff Company Aims to Accelerate Microbiome Discovery

August 28, 2017

The University of Minnesota has announced the launch of CoreBiome, a startup that provides analysis of microbial communities for agricultural, environmental and human health applications. The technology behind CoreBiome is based on discoveries by researchers Kenneth Beckman, PhD, director of the University of Minnesota Genomics Center (UMGC), a Consortium member; Daryl Gohl, PhD, research and development lead of UMGC; and Dan Knights, PhD, of the BioTechnology Institute, which is also a Consortium member. Understanding how communities of microbes behave, whether in the human gut, in farm animals and soil, or in natural waterways, can help scientists discover new ways to control and remedy harmful microbial processes or to facilitate beneficial ones. Microbiome research is leading to new opportunities that range from treating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to removing toxins from contaminated water. Some of the research that led to the startup was funded by the Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI), a Consortium member. Visit Corebiome's website here.  

News

Prof. Leigh Turner

Leigh Turner: Stem Cell Clinics Often Oversell Their Services

August 14, 2017

Prof. Leigh Turner, a faculty member at the Center for Bioethics (a Consortium member), is in the news for his expose of pay-to-participate stem cell studies listed on ClinicalTrials.gov. An article in the Star Tribune outlines the controversy, which has heated up in the aftermath of a Regenerative Medicine paper by Turner in which he questions the legitimacy of many of these trials. According to Turner, "You have these businesses that don’t have meaningful clinical research going on. There is a risk for fraud, in that people may be charged thousands of dollars to get an intervention that has no chance of working." In particular, Turner is concerned about the appearance of a government endorsement, since ClinicalTrials.gov is run by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA). Representatives of some of the companies Turner named have threatened litigation, though no suits have been filed. One cosmetic surgeon quoted in the Star Tribune article refutes Turner's argument: "We are not taking public funding and using it to our benefit while pursuing 'scientific' excellence — we’re actually trying to help our patients while learning about the treatments and the disease they have. Frankly, I think this is much more ethical than a major university with billions of endowment dollars taking millions of dollars of taxpayer money so they can build new offices and laboratories to further the study of stem cells." 

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Zebra mussels on clam shell

Fight Against Zebra Mussels Drives Innovative Scientific Research

July 31, 2017

The Star Tribune has published a major, in-depth analysis of what the zebra mussel invasion means for Minnesota's waterways and what scientists are doing to combat it. Researchers from the University of Minnesota are leading the charge: Consortium member the Genomics Center "expects to release later this summer the first ever sequence of the entire genome of the highly invasive mollusk. . . . Scientists at the U’s BioTechnology Institute [also a Consortium member] . . . are awaiting the DNA profile to speed their hunt for a naturally occurring bacterium or parasite that will kill zebra mussels." The U of MN's Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are also key players in this complicated, high-stakes fight.

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R. Alta Charo

Charo Explains Breakthrough Genetic Treatment for Leukemia

July 27, 2017

For the first time, an FDA panel has recommended that the agency approve a genetic treatment for leukemia. The therapy has been shown to treat a type of leukemia that sometimes doesn't respond to standard therapies like chemotherapy. It uses genetic engineering – removing cells, editing them and then reintroducing them into the patient's body – to transform the living cells into a weapon against cancer. The clinical trial of 55 people had an 85% effectiveness rate, resulting in remission or possibly a long-term cure. In an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, Consortium collaborator Prof. Alta Charo (University of Wisconsin Law School) notes the treatment is "not a magic bullet yet." She cites some very serious side effects, such as extreme inflammation that can cause extraordinarily high fevers. In addition, it is expensive, potentially costing as much as $500,000. If approved, the therapy is recommended for ages 3-25; however, it could eventually be rolled out to older patients. Charo describes this as an example of the "medicine of the 21st century [which will use] gene editing in order to personalize treatment . . . changing cells so they can become their own kind of biological drug." Charo is a member of the National Working Group for the LawSeqSM project, for which Consortium Chair Prof. Susan M. Wolf is one of the Principal Investigators. Listen to the entire interview here

News

Drawing of a microbe

BTI Kicks Off Research Collaboration with the University of Tokyo

July 20, 2017

On Aug. 8, the Biotechnology Institute (BTI), a Consortium member, will be co-hosting a one-day symposium with colleagues from the University of Tokyo. This event inaugurates a Research Exchange Program between BTI and the University of Tokyo’s Department of Biotechnology; Biotechnology Research Center; and Department of Applied Biological Chemistry. Scholars from both universities will present their research; there will also be a poster session and catered lunch. The event will be held from 8:30am-5:00pm at Borlaug Hall 306 on the St. Paul campus. Learn more and RSVP here.

News

Earl Bakken

Center for Spirituality & Healing Renamed in Honor of Earl E. Bakken

July 18, 2017

The University of Minnesota has announced it is renaming two health-focused interdisciplinary centers, including Consortium member the Center for Spirituality & Healing (CSH), in honor of Twin Cities inventor and entrepreneur Earl E. Bakken. Bakken is the co-founder of Medtronic, is an alumnus of the U, and was an early mentor for CSH director Mary Jo Kreitzer. According to the University's announcement, "Bakken has a unique appreciation for both the art and science of health care, as demonstrated by his long-standing support for [CSH], a center focused on research, outreach and education of integrative health and wellbeing." The Medical Devices Centeran interdisciplinary program under the Institute for Engineering in Medicine, will also be renamed in Bakken's honor; in 1957, he developed the first wearable, external, battery-powered, transistorized pacemaker for Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a University of Minnesota heart surgeon.

News

FDA logo

FDA Approves Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests

April 6, 2017

In a turnaround for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency has announced it will "allow a company to sell genetic tests for disease risk directly to consumers," according to the New York Times23andMe, a private genomics and biotechnology company based in Mountain View, California, pioneered products to allow customers to learn about their genome without the involvement of a doctor, genetic counselor or other health care professional. There are two levels of test offered; the default will only include the gene variants that could lead to the development of 10 rare conditions such as factor XI deficiency, Gaucher disease type 1 and celiac disease. For the genes associated with illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, there is a separate track that includes access to genetic counselors. An attempt by 23andMe to offer similar direct-to-consumer tests in 2013 was quashed by the FDA because of concerns about how patients might misinterprete potentially bad news without professional guidance. However, according to Dr. Robert C. Green, a Consortium collaborator who has researched the matter, studies since then have "there is some potential for distress, but it is much, much smaller than was anticipated.” Read the entire article here

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Logo for Petrie Flom Center, Harvard Law School

Patient-led Medicine Symposium on Harvard Bill of Health Blog

March 6, 2017

A symposium published today on Bill of Health, a blog edited by the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, expands on discussions held at the Consortium's Deinard Memorial Lecture last December, "How Patients Are Creating Medicine’s Future." The Deinard lecture featured four speakers – Ernesto Ramirez of Fitabase, Jason Bobe of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Barbara Evans of the University of Houston Law Center, and Kingshuk K. Sinha of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. The Bill of Health symposium provides commentary on their lectures and further reflections on the ways citizen science and wearables are transforming both health care and medical research. A video of the entire Deinard lecture can be viewed here

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Prof. Kingshuk Sinha

Recall of Medical Devices Needs to be More Timely

February 20, 2017

A new study by Consortium collaborator Kingshuk Sinha illustrates troubling lags in the recall of flawed medical devices. In the paper, Prof. Sinha, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School, "applied digital analytics to millions of medical device product reports and recall records" to reveal what Sinha calls "under-reaction bias," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The article details efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to use data-mining to improve surveillance of health technology. However, despite robust evidence that problem devices can have significant negative health effects, such adverse-event reports aren't consistently sought or entered into the federal tracking system, known as MAUDE. Prof. Sinha was one of the presenters in the recent Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine, How Patients Are Creating Medicine’s Future, during which he shared Big Data and supply chain perspectives on health improvement; a video of that event can be viewed here

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Logo for Affordable Care Act

Medical Device Tax Under Fire

January 9, 2017

A 2.3% excise tax on medical devices is among the many aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) likely to be repealed during the current congressional session. The tax was collected starting in 2013, with the intention of offsetting expected ACA-driven profits for companies benefiting from expanded federally-funded Medicare and Medicaid payments. However, Congress passed a two-year repeal of the tax that was enacted in 2015 in an effort led by legislators representing states, like Minnesota, with robust medical device industries. According to the Star Tribune, "With [medical device excise tax] collections set to start again in January 2018, [Republican GOP Representative Erik] Paulsen is going for the coup de grace with a GOP-controlled House, Senate and White House that have made repealing the ACA a top priority." The article notes that the bill's co-sponsors, Paulsen and Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, "adopted the industry’s talking points in opposing the tax as a job killer that also took money away from research and development."

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Datahead guy

Experts Explore the Opportunities and Perils of Patient-Led Medicine

December 7, 2016

Yesterday's Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine was a fitting conclusion to a visionary series. Hundreds of attendees heard from a multidisciplinary panel on the fast-moving, emerging field of patient-led medicine. Prof. Jason Bobe (Mount Sinai School of Medicine) kicked things off by examining the obstacles to broad patient engagement in research, and shared his efforts to empower potential research participants through the Personal Genome Project and Open Humans. Ernesto Ramirez of Fitabase discussed the move toward gathering, analyzing and sharing personal data, and how that has both sparked patient-driven collaborations and led to the development of devices such as the "artificial pancreas," for those with Type 1 Diabetes. Prof. Kingshuk K. Sinha (Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) broadened the conversation to include business perspectives, such as supply-chain management, that can be used to increase access to new health-care products, and also highlighted some potential pitfalls of self-treatment, such as patients using unproven or dangerous approaches. Prof. Barbara Evans (University of Houston Law Center) wrapped up with remarks about the ways laws and regulations meant to protect patients have, in some cases, served as an obstacle to participation in research. An article about the event from the Minneapolis Star Tribune can be read here

News

Prof. Susan M. Wolf

Prof. Wolf Appointed to National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy

December 5, 2016

Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf has been appointed to the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy. This is the only committee that crosses all three academies – Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – and includes the presidents of the three branches. According to their website, “the Committee is charged with the responsibility ‘to deliberate on initiatives for new studies in the area of science and technology policy, taking especially into account the concerns and requests of the President's Science Advisor, the Director of the NSF, the Chairman of the National Science Board, and the chairmen of key science and technology-related committees of the Congress.’” In addition to chairing the Consortium, Prof. Wolf is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law; and Professor of Medicine. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. 

News

Robot hand touching human hand

What Are the Diagnostic Limits of New Technology?

November 18, 2016

"Would you trust an algorithm to help you with a medical diagnosis?" This question is posed by Christina Farr of Fast Company in her discussion of a collaboration between University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and General Electric with the goal of finding out what Big Data approaches to diagnosis can – and can't – accomplish. The two organizations will be partnering for the next three years to "develop a set of algorithms to help radiologists distinguish between a normal result and one that requires further attention." Knowing the medical community will be skeptical about such machine-learning approaches, not to mention the lack of appropriate regulation for a diagnosis by a non-human, Michael Blum of UCSF notes, "There is a lot of concern from the public and from clinicians that we’ll be developing things to replace doctors. These developments will be focused on supporting clinicians and in developing safer workflows." Read the entire article here

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Ear of corn

GMOs Fail to Deliver Higher Crop Yields, Lower Pesticide Use

November 1, 2016

According to an in-depth article in the New York Times, while "the controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. . . the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." This conclusion is drawn from data comparing the two North American countries to Western Europe, where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have largely been rejected. In fact, during the 20-year period studied, pesticide use increased in the US while in France, the biggest European agriculture producer, it has been reduced. Biotech companies like Monsanto defend their products, saying they can help meet the food needs of an explosively growing global population. However, Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, notes "they still 'haven't found the mythical yield gene.'" Read the entire article here

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Nanobot in bloodstream

Chemistry Nobel Prize Goes to Nanotech Scientists

October 5, 2016

Three scientists have been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on designing tiny machines "a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair," according to the BBCJean-Pierre Sauvage (Strasbourg University), Fraser Stoddart (Northwestern University) and Bernard Feringa (University of Groningen) will share the prize, which is worth approximately $930,000. Nanotechnology – "the creation of structures on the scale of a nanometer, or a billionth of a meter," as described in the New York Times – could be used to precisely deliver pharmaceuticals within the human body and may lead to entirely new therapeutic approaches. Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf has led significant efforts, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, to determine the best way to protect human beings who participate in nanotechnology research. Two major symposia evaluated oversight models using a historical and comparative approach and produced the first systematic, comprehensive recommendations on how to protect human participants in nanotech research. To see all the Consortium's work on nanotechnology, click here

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