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Wolf Describes Policy Solutions for Future of Genomic Medicine

December 11, 2018

The latest issue of Minnesota Medicine features an article by Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf about the legal and regulatory underpinnings needed to advance genomic medicine. It is part of a special issue on the future of medicine, and provides an overview of the NIH-funded LawSeqSM project Wolf co-leads with Ellen Wright Clayton (Vanderbilt University) and Frances Lawrenz (University of Minnesota). LawSeqSM is dedicated to analyzing current US federal and state law and regulation on translational genomics. Results of the effort will be the development of consensus guidance on what the law should be, as well as the creation of a website aggregating the statutes, regulations and case law related to genomic medicine. The Minnesota Medicine article was co-authored by Kathryn Grimes, Communications Director for the Consortium.

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Earl E. Bakken

Medtronic Founder Earl A. Bakken Dies at 94

October 22, 2018

Minnesota inventor Earl E. Bakken, best known as the founder of global medical device company Medtronic, has died at his home in Hawaii. Bakken was born in Columbia Heights and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in electrical engineering in 1948. An inveterate tinkerer from an early age, Bakken invented the first wearable, battery-powered, transistorized cardiac pacemaker in 1957 at the request of University of Minnesota heart surgeon C. Walton Lillehei. A Minnesota Public Radio obituary explains that he founded Medtronic because he "saw a need for skilled maintenance and repair of electronic medical technology." Bakken noted, "'The hospitals were bringing this equipment to radio shops.'" Later in life, Bakken became a philanthropist; among his many good works was funding the University's Center for Spirituality and Healing, a Consortium member, which changed its name to honor him in 2017. Photo courtesy Bobak Ha'Eri via the Creative Commons.

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Cathy Wurzer with speaker at Mayo conference Sept 2018

Mayo Genomic Medicine Conference Asks: Hype or Hope?

September 17, 2018

At a conference held last week at the Mayo Clinic, health care professionals discussed the promise and limits of genomic (also known as precision) medicine. According to the Star Tribune, while optimism is justified, Dr. Michael Joyner of Mayo cautioned that "'I like to tell people to drink the Kool-Aid in small doses.' He described a 'hype-filled biomedical narrative' that, he argues, has led people to believe that genetic medicine has accomplished more than it really has." Mayo is participating in the federal All of Us Research program, in which 100 health care organizations in the US are collecting genetic information for one million people. A free conference and national webcast being held in Nashville on Nov. 29 will take the discussion of genomic medicine a step further, focusing on legal and policy solutions to ensure precision medicine doesn't exacerbate health inequities. That event, "Law, Genomic Medicine & Heath Equity" is co-sponsored by the Meharry-Vanderbilt AllianceVanderbilt University Medical Center, the Consortium on Law & Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences and Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative. Learn more and register here

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Brain with Alzheimers

Alzheimer's Research Uses Innovative Clinical Design, Precision Medicine Tools

September 5, 2018

Recent research has raised hopes that new drugs can help slow or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. While promising breakthroughs abound in this arena, what distinguishes the development of one of these drugs, BAN2401, was the clinical trial's "adaptive design." That approach "ensured that when new subjects were recruited, they were more likely to be assigned to arms of the trial that showed the greatest promise," according to the Los Angeles Times. Advocates for adaptive design note it can make clinical trials more flexible, efficient and ethical because it makes effective treatments more readily available to patients. Critics are concerned that such adaptation opens the door to biased studies. To read a recent symposium on challenges to the conduct of high-quality laboratory research, click here. The other promising drug, Anavex 2-73, was developed using precision medicine approaches. "Researchers [focused on studying a small group of] Alzheimer’s patients who bear a few 'actionable genetic variants.'" These variants were identified by genomic sequencing intended to find participants most likely to have a positive response to the drugs. On Nov. 29, the Consortium is co-sponsoring a free, public conference and webcast, "Law, Genomic Medicine & Health Equity" that will discuss some of the implications of precision medicine for traditionally underserved populations; co-sponsors are the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, Vanderbilt Health, and the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative. The event will be held at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN; to learn more and register, click here

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Chainbreaker Grants Awarded for Cancer Research

August 8, 2018

The Masonic Cancer Center, a Consortium member, has announced its first Chainbreaker Breakthrough Cancer Research Grant, which was awarded to a multidisciplinary group of scholars at the University of Minnesota. The team will focus on the connections between microorganisms and cancer, as both potential causes of and treatments for the disease, and will be co-led by Timothy K. Starr, PhD, Assistant Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, and Alexander Khoruts, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. The funds for the grant were derived from last year's inaugural Chainbreaker Ride, a two-day bike tour that raised $1.4 million for cancer research. This year's ride begins on Aug. 10, and will include more than 1000 riders who will pedal distances ranging from 25 to 180 miles. Can't ride? You can still help as a "virtual rider" who works to raise funds or serve as a volunteer; learn more here

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NASEM Releases New Report on Returning Individual Research Results

July 19, 2018

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have released a new consensus report on returning individual research results, which offers a process-ori­ented approach that considers the value to the participant, the risks and feasibility of return, and the quality of the research laboratory. The committee that created the report was chaired by Jeffrey R. Botkin (University of Utah School of Medicine) and also included Wylie Burke (University of Washington), Vanessa Northington Gamble (George Washington University), Amy L. McGuire (Baylor College of Medicine) and Consuelo H. Wilkins (Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Meharry Medical College), all of whom are Consortium collaborators. Prof. Wilkins is on the planning committee and will be speaking at our forthcoming conference, Law, Genomic Medicine & Health Equity: How Can Law Support Genomics and Precision Medicine to Advance the Health of Underserved Populations? Learn more about the conference here

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University Honored for Generating New Companies

May 16, 2018

In the 12 years since the University of Minnesota established its Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) in 2006, more than 120 new companies have been founded based on the U's diverse research activities. Now, OTC is a finalist for an international award recognizing the best academic technology transfer units in the world. According to Twin Cities Business, the other nominees are comparable units at Indiana University, Johns Hopkins, Oxford and Yissum (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Vice President for Research Allen Levine said "We are thrilled to see the University of Minnesota receive global recognition. . . . It is a testament to our efforts. . . to foster entrepreneurship, connect with the private sector and accelerate the transfer of knowledge to benefit the public good.”  The winner will be announced on May 22 in London. Several faculty members affiliated with the Consortium have launched companies in partnership with OTC, including Kenny Beckman (University of Minnesota Genomics Center, Corebiome); Bruce Blazer (Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Tmunity Therapeutics); and Michael Sadowsky and Alexander Khoruts (BioTechnology Institute, CIPAC – Crestovo LLC).

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3D sensor printed on hand

Researchers Print 3D Electronics and Cells Directly on Skin

April 30, 2018

A new paper describes a low-cost 3D printing technology that could be used to print on skin temporary sensors for detecting chemical or biological agents, solar cells to charge electronics, or new types of skin grafts. The research was conducted by a team led by Michael McAlpine, the University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in partnership with Jakub Tolar, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School and director of the Stem Cell Institute, a Consortium member. The new 3D printing technique can be mapped onto each individual's skin contours and uses a specialized ink made of silver flakes that can be peeled off with tweezers or washed off with water. Prof. McAlpine notes, “It is such a simple idea and has unlimited potential for important applications in the future.”

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CTSI Receives $42.6 Million to Expand U of M Health Research Impact

April 9, 2018

The University of Minnesota's Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) has received a $42.6 million grant through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program. CTSI, a Consortium member, will use the funding to train and support researchers striving to make important discoveries that will improve Minnesotans’ health. The five-year award is effective March 30, 2018 through February 28, 2023 and is one of the University’s largest federal research grants; this is the second time CTSI has received this prestigious recognition. VP for Research Allen Levine notes, "CTSI has provided important clinical and translational research support across the University, including . . . for six technologies that have led to startup ventures in areas like microbiome analysis and cancer drug delivery." New to this grant is a mentored career development component that will allow trainees to develop the skills to translate research discoveries into clinical practice. 

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23andMe Wins FDA Approval for Direct-to-Consumer Cancer Test

March 6, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today authorized the first direct-to-consumer (DTC) test to report on three specific BRCA1/BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutations that are most common in people of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent. These three mutations, however, are not the most common BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations in the general population. “This test provides information to certain individuals who may be at increased breast, ovarian or prostate cancer risk and who might not otherwise get genetic screening, and is a step forward in the availability of DTC genetic tests. But it has a lot of caveats,” said FDA spokesperson Donald St. Pierre. “While the detection of a BRCA mutation on this test does indicate an increased risk, only a small percentage of Americans carry one of these three mutations and most BRCA mutations that increase an individual’s risk are not detected by this test. The test should not be used as a substitute for seeing your doctor for cancer screenings or counseling on genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase or decrease cancer risk.” After an FDA review determined that the test is accurate (i.e., can correctly identify the three genetic variants in saliva samples) and can provide reproducible results, marketing authorization was granted to 23andMe. Learn more here

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C difficile bacteria

Research Reveals Exciting New Possibilities for Microbiome Therapies

February 22, 2018

A major paper just published in Cell Host & Microbe sheds light on a question that has puzzled scientists for years: while we know fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) works for people suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, how exactly does it work? The research team behind the paper includes Alexander Khoruts and Michael J. Sadowsky, the director of the Biotechnology Institute, a Consortium member center. They used clinical experiments and statistical modeling to uncover the "rules" for how donor bacteria grafts itself to existing gut microbes in the host. One of the outcomes of the research is Strain Finder, a method to predict which types of bacteria will best colonize a microbiome being treated via FMT. An article in the Star Tribune further describes the work of Sadowsky and Khoruts’ Microbiota Therapeutics Program, which is on the cutting edge of developing remedies for various microbiome-related illnesses. You can also read a Star Tribune op ed by Khoruts and Sadowsky, in which they express their concerns about the article's focus on a for-profit model for developing such therapies. 

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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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Model of crystal structure for CRISPR-Cas9

Will 2018 Be the Year of CRISPR?

December 27, 2017

An article in MIT Technology Review notes, "In just the past few years, advances in [the gene-editing technology] CRISPR have been happening at a breakneck speed — and companies have sprung up to commercialize the technology. Now, patients in Europe and the U.S. could be treated with CRISPR-based therapies as soon as 2018." Looking at actual research, however, the picture is more mixed: trials are planned at Stanford University, for example, but have already been delayed at the University of Pennsylvania. Alexey Bersenev, director of the Advanced Cell Therapy Lab at Yale New Haven Hospital, cautions “the field is currently over-optimistic about possible results of clinical trials. . . . Every new and hot biomedical technology usually undergoes an inflated expectations phase.”