$13.3 million grant to fund Pitt-CMU cell research center
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A $13.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will establish a national research center in Pittsburgh dedicated to understanding the inner workings of cells and how they can be used in the early detection and treatment of diseases ranging from cancer to cystic fibrosis.
The National Technology Center for Networks and Pathways is a five-year joint project between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh that will blend medicine, engineering and computer science to develop technologies to allow scientists to examine what is going on inside living cells.
The center will use the fluorescent dyes developed by CMU biologist Alan Waggoner and create images of the cells using technologies designed by Simon Watkins, director of the Center for Biologic Imaging at Pitt. Dr. Waggoner will direct the new center within CMU's Mellon Institute.
The federal dollars, which will be dispensed over five years, will fund lab supplies and equipment and six new jobs. The center already has hired manager Marcel Bruchez, who came from California-based biotech firm Quantum Dots, Dr. Waggoner said.
The center will build upon research projects under way at CMU, Pitt, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.
The center ultimately will have a staff of 34, three-quarters of whom will be at CMU, and will expand upon Dr. Waggoner's research at the Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center, where fluorescent dyes, or biosensors, used to help map out the human genome were created.
The new center is one of five around the country funded by the NIH in recent years to study cells and "how those cells make the body work," said Norka Ruiz Bravo, a deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health who was among a bevy of university, state and federal officials on hand to tour the labyrinth of drab laboratories on the second floor of the Mellon Institute.
The commercial potential of research generated at the new center is vast and will heighten Pittsburgh's biotech profile, university officials said. "I can't think of a single disease that this wouldn't affect," said Dr. Waggoner.
But it could take three to 12 years before the research at the center makes its way to the marketplace, he added. "It's very unpredictable," he said, adding that the technology used to launch local biotech firm Biological Detection Systems Inc. was 10 years in the making before former researcher turned entrepreneur H. Lansing Taylor founded the company in the early 1990s.
After Biological Detections Systems was sold in 1995 to Amersham PLC -- now GE Healthcare -- Dr. Taylor went on to found two more biotech firms launched from research generated at the Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center: Cellomics Inc., which was later sold to Fisher Scientific International, and South Side startup Cellumen Inc., which is focused on understanding the roles genes and proteins play in the life of normal cells.
The new center builds upon research findings developed from nearly $2 million in support from state and private sources.
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 3, 2006) Marcel Bruchez, who previously worked at the California-based company Quantum Dot, was incorrectly identified in the original version of this story as published on April 25, 2006 about a $13.3 million grant from National Institutes of Health to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
First Published April 25, 2006 12:00 am