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    January 5, 2007
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School of Medicine researchers awarded NIH grants


Cloning Efficiency


Keith Latham, M.D., professor of biochemistry at the School of Medicine and the Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology, has been awarded a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study spindle formation in oocytes (the cell from which the female egg forms) and early embryos.           


When a cell divides, a spindle forms that helps to segregate and divide chromosomes from the nuclei of a mother cell into two identical nuclei for two daughter cells. But in cloned animal embryos, researchers have found this process short-circuited, as spindles fail to form or segregate genetic material imperfectly. The result? Cells that are no longer clones of the original.                          


“From a developmental biology view, this creates cloning inefficiency,” Latham said.


To uncover why this occurs and to improve cloning efficiency, Latham is turning to proteomics to study how proteins influence the process of spindle formation. Improved efficiency of cloning has a number of benefits, from the creation of better pharmaceutical factors from animals (such as those that led to insulin), to development of new patient-specific stem cell therapies.


“We’re grateful for the grant to better understand how life begins and to get a sense of how to make chromosomes segregate correctly,” Latham said.


Drug Addiction and Relapse


Lynn Kirby, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology at the School of Medicine and the Center for Substance Abuse Research, has received a five-year $1.1 million grant from the NIH to study the role of serotonin circuits in opiate addiction and relapse at the cellular level.


Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter involved in many behaviors, is a prime target for stress as well as opiates. Kirby notes that long-term exposure to stress is known to play a role in psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as a role in relapse in subjects with a prior history of substance abuse. 


“We know that recovered addicts are vulnerable to relapse and that relapse can be triggered by stressful life events,” Kirby said. “What we want to understand is how serotonin operates at the cellular level during stress and relapse.”


Using a combination of electrophysiological, neurochemical, anatomical and behavioral techniques, Kirby hopes to identify novel targets for the treatment of opiate addiction and prevention of relapse.


Translational Science


Temple is among 52 universities selected to receive a one-year NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA). The planning grant is designed to help move new clinical discoveries faster from the laboratory to patients for disease treatment and prevention.             


“With the new Medical School building on the horizon, it’s critical for us all to collaborate and to understand what it takes to bring useful clinical discoveries quickly to the bedside,” said principal investigator Henry Parkman, M.D., professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and director of the GI Motility Laboratory at Temple University Hospital. “Using the grant, we hope to build awareness that basic research is important to patient care and to improve the underlying care and operations at the hospital.”


The $225,000 grant will help the School of Medicine strengthen translational work in cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and substance abuse, as well as programs in gestational diabetes, women’s health, and other telemedicine programs run in the community.  The funding will also be used to study how to increase clinical research opportunities and mentoring for young investigators.


“We plan to sponsor a retreat to talk about resources, education and training at the School of Medicine and the School of Health Professions,” Parkman said. “The grant will give all of us a chance to better understand our resources and opportunities as we move to the new Medical School.”


- By Ilene Raymond Rush




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