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Jun 7, 2013

Drug Target Research Center Planned for UMass Amherst

  • A center that will identify new drug targets based on protein research at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst is among western Massachusetts projects winning a total $100.5 million in funding from the quasi-public agency that oversees the commonwealth’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Initiative.

    The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) yesterday approved most of the money—$95 million—toward construction and equipment for Phase II of the new $157-million Life Sciences Laboratories (LSL) at UMass Amherst.

    The lab building will house three new research centers created to develop innovative products and services by partnering with regional life sciences and precision manufacturing companies. One center, Models to Medicine, will focus on translating basic protein research by UMass Amherst research into new therapeutic targets by studying protein dysfunctions believed to play a role in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and infectious diseases.

    Nearly 50 researchers will be associated with Models to Medicine. One of them, Lila Gierasch, runs a lab focused on how protein homeostasis networks facilitate proper folding in the cell, and how the networks inhibit disease-producing processes. Over the past five years, Dr. Gierasch and nine other faculty members have formed a core team that has won more than $14 million in NIH research funding.

    The other two centers will focus on patient monitoring through biosensors, nanotechnology, and big data management; and on application of new drug, agricultural, and "nutraceutical" compounds. Space not filled by the centers will be devoted to bioinformatics, conference space, and a testing center.

    The life-sci lab fits with UMass Amherst’s emphasis on translating industry-sponsored research. The campus is home to the UMass Innovation Institute at Amherst, which now attracts $14 million annually in industry research awards, a figure it expects to balloon in five years to $30 million annually.

    Construction on the LSL began in February 2010, funded by $100 million from the commonwealth for Phase I and $56.5 million from UMass Amherst for Phase II’s unfurnished “shell” space, providing a total of 310,000 square feet of research space.

    MLSC also approved $5.5 million for the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute (PVLSI) to establish a Health Informatics and Technology Innovation Center in Springfield, MA. PVLSI is a joint venture of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and UMass Amherst. The center will focus on advancing public/private-sector partnerships and incubating new technologies from startups and established companies in big data analytics, health care quality, mobile health, and population health management.

    The PVLSI funding comes more than three months after the MLSC-approved $4.5 million grant for another regional bioinformatics project, the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, MA. The MLSC-funded Commonwealth Computational Cloud for Data Driven Biology will expand the center’s capacity for life sciences-related research and data analysis through large-scale computation and big data analytics.

    “These investments support the kind of innovation that propels our economy forward and prepares our citizens for the 21st century global marketplace,” Gov. Deval Patrick, who enacted the life-sci initiative in 2008, said in a statement.


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