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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

Scientists get $25M in tobacco cash

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE SCIENCE WRITER

COLUMBUS - The state gave biomedical researchers more than $25 million in tobacco money yesterday, but not a penny of it is going to northwest Ohio.

Cleveland and Columbus were the big winners in the competition, with institutions there winning all three multimillion grants. One research team, led by an Ohio State University scientist, not only won nearly $8 million in tobacco money, but earlier in the day learned that it would receive $9.1 million from the Wright Center Capital Project Funds. This is part of Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier, a $1.6 billion effort to create high-tech jobs.

Three Toledo researchers applied for the Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer tobacco grants. Probably the most ambitious of the local plans was from Sonia Najjar, a Medical College of Ohio researcher, who sought $6.2 million to form the Midwest Obesity and Diabetes Research Initiative. Also applying from MCO was Larry Elmer, a neurologist participating in a $10 million Cleveland Clinic Foundation grant request involving the surgical treatment of Parkinson's disease. Finally, Paul Erhardt, from the University of Toledo's Center for Drug Design and Development, joined an $8 million pitch from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to help move promising medicinal compounds to market.

“Northwest Ohio got shut out again,” said Donald Braun, director of MCO's Cancer Institute and an advisory member of the committee that awarded the grants. “We're going to have to continue to develop innovative institutional programs.”

Dr. Braun added: “It's time for the money in northwest Ohio to step up and make this possible. The region knows how to commercialize things, just not biotech.”

Indeed, the three winning projects stress marketability. The National Academy of Science, which advises the U.S. government on research issues, reviewed the applications before the Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer Commission voted on them on yesterday.

“Our proposal was very worthwhile, but not as close to market, by any means, as some of the others,” Dr. Erhardt said.

“Oh bummer,” said Dr. Elmer after learning of the awards. “You throw out so many nets, and you just wonder what you're going to get.”

Dr. Najjar said she would continue to pursue development of an obesity center through other grants.

The winning BRTT grants included:

wNearly $8 million to Mike Knopp at OSU, and collaborators in Cleveland. The team is developing magnetic resonance imaging technology more than twice as powerful as the MRIs just coming into use.

“We want to see brain activation, activation of nerve pathways, and then molecular imaging,'' Dr. Knopp said. These devices would allow physicians to see inside the body without surgery, right down to the dance of the proteins. Dr. Knopp's laboratory now has a MRI more powerful than the one his team plans to put on the market.

w$7.8 million to P. Hunter Peckham at Case, with other Cleveland researchers, to create implantable neurological devices. These units would tune malfunctioning nerves involved in incontinence, stroke-induced paralysis, pain control, and sleep apnea.

“These are four areas with significant commercial potential,” Dr Peckham said. The grant would allow him to create the pipeline for commercialization of similar devices.

wIn the proposal reviewers ranked highest, an $8.6 million grant to Stan Gerson at Case and collaborators in Cleveland and Columbus. The team focuses on stem cells derived from blood, body tissue, and umbilical cords, to treat leukemia, protect against the ravages of chemotherapy, and prevent side effects from transplants of donated bone marrow.

Compared to the other two winners, this work may be furthest from market, but Dr. Gerson said it is the most innovative. “We have the farthest to go, and the greatest potential by a long shot. We're talking about being able to treat thousands upon thousands of people,” he said.



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