Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

MAY1 2015

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8 | MAY 1, 2015 | GENengnews.com | Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News have joined with the German and French funding agencies and the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation to review and fund proposals intended to add to "under- standing of nervous system structure and function, mechanisms underlying nervous system disorders, and computational strate- gies used by the nervous system." CRCNS awards an estimated 15 to 25 grants annually, with between $5 million and $20 million expected to be available per year depending on the quality of appli- cations and availability of funds. This year's proposal deadline is October 29. "Once applications come in, they're re- viewed at NSF, but NIH participates in the review, and we pick up some of the appli- cations and pay for them. I could foresee a similar type program going forward" as part of BRAIN, Michelle Freund, Ph.D., a project offcer with NIMH, told GEN. The number of BRAIN Initiative-related funding opportunities has grown to 13 this fscal year from four in FY 2014. One op- portunity has been approved to date for FY 2016—a grant program to support neurosci- ence research arising from invasive surgical procedures that provide the ability to record and stimulate neurons within precisely local- ized brain structures in humans. "Applications can span the spectrum from experimental studies of mechanisms of human sensory-motor, perceptual, cognitive, mne- monic, affective, and motivational processes, to disorders of the human nervous system, to studies of mechanisms of action of device neu- romodulation therapies," according to NIH. HBP: Rethinking the Science So far BRAIN has avoided the sort of pub- lic discontent from researchers seen in the Eu- ropean Commission's Human Brain Project (HBP). "Since their project is focused on com- putation approaches and ours is not, there is a natural collaboration," Dr. Freund said, add- ing that leaders of both initiatives keep in reg- ular contact. "They will need large amounts of data measured in U.S. labs (and elsewhere) for their model. We in turn should be able to use their models as they become available." HBP's board on March 18 approved recom- mendations for reworking the project included in a 53-page Mediation Report crafted by a committee headed by Wolfgang Marquardt, Ph.D., chairman of Germany's Forschungszen- trum Jülich research center. The panel was con- vened after some 200 scientists threatened to boycott the HBP, contending that the 10-year, s1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) mega-initiative was not being properly managed and thus would not fulfll its goal of simulating the inner work- ings of the human brain. The report urged HBP's leaders to rethink the project's science. While not ruling out a brain simulation, the report instead portrayed HBP as evolving long-term into Europe's hub for simulation-based and computational neuroscience, with fewer, smaller projects that will be easi- er to fund and accomplish shorter-term. "Research activities should focus on the development of a set of models that complement each other and inte- grate multiple scales and perspectives, together with the specifcation, design, implementation, and testing of IT plat- forms enabling and exploiting these models," the committee concluded. The committee recommended that HBP should re-integrate cognitive and systems neuroscience through new proj- ects that cut across, and thereby link, existing subprojects, at an estimated cost of s45 million (about $49 million). That's a no-brainer, since eliminating cognitive and systems neuroscience from HBP's second funding round helped touch off the researcher revolt. The panel also endorsed a governance change that was carried out earlier when HBP's three-person executive committee was disbanded. The report urged a shift in over- sight for HBP from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL), whose profes- sor Henry Markram is HBP's leader as coor- dinating scientist, to "a new legal entity jointly represented by those institutions that most strongly contribute to the project." That en- tity, the report added, should be a permanent international institution, akin to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Two longtime critics of HBP view the re- port's fndings favorably, while skeptical on how it will be followed up. Peter Dayan, Ph.D., director of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at Univer- sity College London and a Mediation Com- mittee member, told GEN that HBP should focus instead on developing tools that neuro- science researchers would adopt in their work. "That should be, in the end, the mark of success for this project. That's a huge task. At the moment, they haven't done that yet," Dr. Dayan said. "The idea of focusing on generating tools which could be widely used would be great. But of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are these tools usable, and are they used? If they're not, then that's a mark of failure." Alexandre Pouget, Ph.D., group leader of the Laboratory of Cognitive Computational Neuroscience at the University of Geneva, told GEN he's waiting to see how the recom- mendations are translated later this year into changes to the HBP's research and governance roadmap, the Framework Partnership Agree- ment. He was excluded from the committee: "We'll know when the FPA is published how much of the recommendations they're really implementing, so we'll have a bet- ter picture in about four or fve months from now." The HBP would be foolish to de- lay serious changes to its science. One source of ideas could be the comple- mentary brain research efforts occur- ring outside Europe. The report offers as one example the diffusion tensor imaging data of connectivity from the BRAIN initiative: "The emerging inter- action of the HBP with these and other initiatives is encouraged to develop and exploit complementary scientifc exper- tise, with a focus on data acquisition and knowledge generation to leverage the work of the international commu- nity." As academia and industry have found out in recent years, partnering not only offers the promise of positive results, it's less expensive, too. Brain Projects Continued from page 7 EXCLUSIVE > Thermo Fisher Scientifc has entered into a value- added reseller agreement with Prosolia to permit it to sell the Prosolia Velox 360™ device with Thermo Scientifc mass spec- trometry (MS) systems, providing a single point of contact for purchasing, installation, and service. The Velox 360 device is an automated sample handling and ionization source for mass spectrometry featuring PaperSpray technology. Paper- Spray technology combines paper substrates with electro- spray ionization, designed to simplify sample preparation and speed up mass spectrometry analysis of biological fuids. The Velox 360 device can be coupled to the Thermo Scientifc Q Exactive Series MS family as well as the company's triple quad- rupole and ion trap instruments. > SCIEX signed an agreement with Mass Consortium, a mass spectrometry-focused software company, for the ex- clusive reseller and marketing rights of XCMSplus software. As the exclusive reseller of XCMSplus, SCIEX said it will enable researchers to simplify and accelerate their metabolomics workfows by processing, visualizing, and analyzing data in one interactive, secure bioinformatics environment. XCMSplus software is an advanced personal cloud version of XCMS Online developed at Scripps. The new XCMSplus of- fers improved multigroup analysis capabilities, faster on-site data processing, and local data storage and sharing capa- bilities. Metabolomic researchers can also shorten their time- frames for translating data into biological information. > Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has entered a deal with Hairpin Technologies to expand the commercial distribution and research use of short hairpin RNA (shRNA) technology. Hairpin Technologies will serve as CSHL's exclu- sive agent for negotiating and executing new license agree- ments with potential licensees of CSHL's U.S. and international patents covering the shRNA technology. Hairpin Technologies will lead marketing, corporate outreach, and out-licensing ef- forts to identify and engage potential commercial licensees. Invented at CSHL by Gregory Hannon, Ph.D., professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, shRNA is a versatile research tool used in functional genomics and drug discovery. It can be used to silence target-gene expression to help investigators elucidate biological function and identify novel drug targets. The technology is useful in determining the role of specifc genes in disease, allowing researchers to observe what happens when these genes are turned of. shR- NA may help scientists identify and validate drug targets for new pharmaceuticals. > Quanterix is partnering with RayBiotech to provide ul- trasensitive single molecule array technology to support bio- marker research. RayBiotech has adopted Quanterix' Simoa technology to deploy as part of their solutions for biomarker discovery and testing. RayBiotech will leverage its catalog of antibodies and experience with developing protein assays to ofer its customers services that complement Quanterix' own Simoa Accelerator ofering. The Simoa Accelerator lab allows researchers to access its technology to run their samples on Simoa assays, to convert their existing assays to Simoa for greater sensitivity, or to have custom assays developed by the Quanterix team for specifc markers of interest. "With Simoa's 100- to 1,000-fold increase in sensitivity over standard protein detection techniques coupled with RayBiotech's target specifc content, this service has the po- tential to transform our understanding of numerous diseas- es," said Ray Ruopan Huang, Ph.D., M.D., cofounder and CEO, RayBiotech. n News PRODUCTS & SERVICES Neuroscientists are working on 3D reconstructions of the thousands of branches that make up neurons to gain a better understanding of how the brain encodes information. iStock.com / akindo

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