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Partnership to recruit leading scientists

By Jeff Hansel

The Post-Bulletin

The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics has launched an ambitious plan to recruit top-level scientists to work in Minnesota.

The collaboration between the state, Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota announced Tuesday evening that $7.5 million in Minnesota Partnership money would be used to attract four nationally — or internationally — renowned medical scientists.

The scientists will be recruited in pairs. Two of the four researchers will work at Mayo, and two will work at the university. Their research will focus on two topics:

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  • Cancer-related discoveries and bringing those discoveries directly to patients.
  • New ways to analyze the flood of new medical information, through the use of bioinformatics and biostatistics.

Once the new researchers are onboard, partnership officials expect their research teams will follow them, along with millions of dollars in federal grants.
"The ripples from this recruitment will positively affect each institution, local and state economies, and Minnesota’s reputation as a leader in biosciences," a partnership statement says. Each researcher would likely bring along some of their own laboratory staff, and their families.

Importance

The Minnesota Partnership was proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2003.

In April of that year, he said the partnership would lead to the creation of new businesses and jobs in Minnesota because of "major new scientific discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of human disease, improved technology for food and agriculture research."

The Minnesota Partnership already has garnered federal research grants, meaning jobs that have been added.

New businesses in Minnesota have yet to appear, but researchers with the partnership have made progress with research on issues such as prostate cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.

For the first time anywhere, they’ve taken images of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brains of mice, and work is continuing on development of a way to commercialize the same type of imaging in humans.

That means the possibility of doctors eventually being able to rapidly diagnose Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis that’s possible now only through the process of elimination.

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Separately, the Partnership Alzheimer’s researchers — using Minnesota partnership money — say they want to use the technology to help drug companies learn whether new medicines work or not.

What’s next?

Now, the Minnesota partnership is raising the bar.

Officials want to bring the new, big-name researchers to Rochester and the Twin Cities using $7.5 million approved by the Legislature in 2006.

"The money will be used to create competitive startup packages for prominent scientists, including staff salary support, equipment and laboratory supplies," a partnership statement says.

Its goal? To maintain Minnesota’s "competitive position among the states that are trying to attract the top talent," Mayo program co-director Eric Wieben said in the statement from the partnership. "We have two of the country’s best research institutions offering exciting collaborative opportunities, but there’s a lot of competition for top scientists in hot areas of research."

In a competitive marketplace, "we need every advantage to rise above other states and build the recruitment packages that keep Minnesota in the top tier of biomedical research states," said Dr. Mark Paller, the U of M co-director. "We want to be an attractive option for the leading researchers in the country and globally."

According to the partnership, grant funding requires applicants to "build on the existing strengths of the Minnesota partnership," with preference given to "proposals emphasizing innovation and translation of discoveries to patient care."

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The grants:

The 2007 Minnesota Partnership Recruitment Award for Cancer Experimental Therapeutics; $4 million.

  • Mayo’s Division of Oncology Research will recruit and hire an investigator with expertise in "DNA damage-induced signaling, cell cycle regulation/checkpoint activation, and/or DNA repair."
  • The university’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry will hire an expert in "x-ray crystallography of drug-protein complexes" to "help identify novel macromolecules, potential targets for new cancer treatments."

The 2007 Minnesota Partnership Recruitment Award for Statistical Genetics/Genomic Biomedical Informatics; $3.6 million.
Experts are needed for "processing and analyzing the tremendous amount of data arising from genomic research."

  • Mayo Clinic will hire a "statistical genetics and bioinformatics" expert to "enhance partnership interactions in pharmacogenomics research within the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center."
  • The University of Minnesota will hire an expert in "biomedical informatics … with expertise in handling genomic data."

To see a partnership video, go to www.postbulletin.com.
Go to www.minnesotapartnership.info.

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