A plan to develop three-dimensional tissue transcriptomics, a proposal to engineer programmable biomaterials, and a center for advanced research in brain cancer are among the latest projects funded by the University of Michigan’s Biosciences Initiative.

Three large projects and a fourth smaller one, totaling more than $20 million, will be funded this fiscal year through the presidential initiative, which focuses on funding cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, enabling expert faculty hires, bolstering collaboration, and facilitating postgraduate education across the biological sciences at U-M.

“Our Biosciences Initiative relentlessly pursues excellence in research and solutions to outstanding problems in the life sciences. Each of these extraordinary projects promises hope for improving human health or developing crucial, new scientific understanding that can lead to important societal impact,” President Mark Schlissel said.

With this funding opportunity, the Biosciences Initiative sought high-impact, scientific research initiative proposals from U-M faculty aimed at solving critical problems in the biosciences.

Application requirements leveraged the breadth of the biosciences and convergent disciplines across U-M, mandating multidisciplinary collaboration and proposals that strengthen research and education in the biosciences from fundamental discovery to practical application.

The four selected projects include researchers representing many of U-M’s biosciences schools and colleges.

The three large projects are:

• “Single Cell Spatial Analysis Program,” principal investigator Evan Keller, Medical School; and co-principal investigators Tom Wilson, Jun Li and Arvind Rao, Medical School; Sunitha Nagrath, College of Engineering; and Justin Colacino, School of Public Health.

This project will explore new ways to study cell biology in the context of their three-dimensional tissues.

With the opportunity for three new expert faculty recruits and strengthened shared resources, the Biosciences Initiative support will benefit not only the recruits, but also the large number of existing faculty looking to pursue scientific questions that were inaccessible with past technologies.

This program envisions building a collaborative community focused on spatial transcriptomics analysis projects by hosting seminars and workshops, mentoring, referrals and highly leveraged projects for platform development and scientific exploration.

• “Engineering Cell Programmable Biomaterials for Dental and Musculoskeletal Health,” principal investigator David Kohn, School of Dentistry and College of Engineering; and co-principal investigators William Giannobile, School of Dentistry; Kurt Hankenson, Medical School; and Jan Stegemann and Lonnie Shea, College of Engineering.

Leveraging existing expertise in biomaterials and musculoskeletal tissue engineering, this project aims to fill critical gaps at U-M in imaging and computational design of materials.

With support from the Biosciences Initiative, these investigators plan to develop advanced materials that control the programming of cells and the resulting development and spatio-temporal organization of tissue to organize cells in 3-D.

• “Technological Innovations in Brain Cancer,” principal investigators Steven P. Schwendeman, College of Pharmacy, and Maria Castro, Medical School.

Many biomedical research scientists dream of technological discoveries that will someday successfully treat sick people. This project proposes to make those dreams a reality for brain cancer researchers by creating a brain cancer thrust area within the Biointerfaces Institute at U-M.

With the Biosciences Initiative support for this project, U-M has the potential to become a world leader in the development and translation of new, advanced technological innovations for helping brain cancer patients.

The Exploratory Funding grant of $50,000 was awarded to:

• “Strengthening Emerging Model System Biology at the University of Michigan,” principal investigator Ken Cadigan, LSA; and co-principal investigators Laura Buttitta, Cora MacAlister and Tim James, LSA; and Anthony Antonellis, Medical School.

Centered around answering basic and disease-related biological questions, this project aims to improve the university’s organismal repertoire by increasing its diversity of model systems.

To accomplish this, this multidisciplinary group of researchers proposes to design and host a seminar series focused on emerging model system biology, featuring leaders in these topics. Visiting experts will give a public seminar highlighting how they use emerging model systems to address important biological questions.

In addition to the roughly $20 million in funding provided through the presidential initiative, $8.7 million will be contributed by the researchers’ home departments, schools, colleges, institutes and centers.

The evaluation process for the large proposals included two independent levels of review. Sixteen letters of intent were submitted. The Biosciences Initiative Coordinating Committee requested full proposals from six of them, and then provided funding recommendations to the president and provost.

There will be one more round of funding for this opportunity. Letters of intent for the final round of Scientific Research Initiative and Exploratory Opportunity funding are due in April 2020.

The Biosciences Initiative will host a celebration symposium featuring grantees from the past two years Dec. 16 at the Michigan League. It includes a poster session and reception for all members of the biosciences community at U-M. Register and learn more about the grantees.

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