ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The second round of Taubman Scholars has been announced at the University of Michigan’s A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute. Seven leading U-M clinician-scientists will receive the prestigious grants, which will give them unprecedented freedom to conduct “high risk, high reward” research with the intent of moving scientific discoveries out of laboratories and into doctors’ offices.
In addition, four Emerging Scholars were appointed; these are clinician-scientists who are early in their careers but show great promise for being future leaders in medical research.
The Taubman Institute was established in 2007 by philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman to provide U-M medical researchers the freedom and resources they need to pursue transformative investigations into understanding and treating a host of human diseases.
The Taubman Scholars represent the core program of the Institute. They receive three-year grants consisting of $150,000 per year. These are the equivalent of medical “genius grants,” allowing them to explore new frontiers of medicine, such as stem cell therapy.
The Emerging Scholars will receive $50,000 a year for three years. In addition, four of the original Taubman Scholars have been named Senior Taubman Scholars to continue their research, with grants of $50,000 per year for three years.
The Taubman and Senior Taubman Scholars will receive unrestricted funding from the Taubman Institute’s endowment, which was created using $44 million in gifts to the U-M Medical School from retail pioneer A. Alfred Taubman.
The Emerging Scholars are funded by gifts from members of the Taubman Institute’s Leadership Advisory Board and their families, who are joining Taubman in promoting cutting-edge research at the University of Michigan. The donors are Edith Briskin, Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg and the Marvin and Betty Danto Family Foundation.
Edith Briskin supervises her family’s Shirley K. Schlafer Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer research as well as young women researching medicine at U-M. The foundation also supports arts programs for children at risk and Briskin is an active volunteer for other arts and education initiatives.
Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg are both U-M alumni and support many health-care initiatives along with social and Jewish organizations. Kenneth Eisenberg is the chairman and CEO of Kenwal Steel Corporation in Dearborn, Mich.
Marvin and the late Betty Danto have been generous supporters of U-M health initiatives and their name is on the auditorium at the U-M Cardiovascular Center. They have donated $2 million to support the U-M Scleroderma Program, establishing a research professorship and research fund in connective tissue research.
Altogether there will be 15 Scholars in the Taubman Institute, whose laboratories employ 250 scientists. The Institute also hosts the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, the only facility in the state deriving embryonic stem cell lines.
“I am inspired by the energy, the creativity and the intelligence of these researchers, and am delighted that other donors have also been spurred to support these scientists,” says Taubman. “I am glad the Taubman Institute continues to support this tremendously important work.”
The original Taubman Scholars compiled an impressive list of accomplishments, including five human clinical trials of new treatments for disease and a total of 132 articles in leading scientific journals.
"The ground-breaking research of this group of physician scientists will be further advanced by the additional flexible research support provided through the Institute," says James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., dean of the U-M Medical School and the Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine.
All of the scholars were nominated by the initial group of scholars and other key research leaders of the Medical School. The nominees were evaluated and chosen by the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board.
“Our scientists are tremendously grateful for the ongoing support of our work. This funding gives us true freedom to pursue innovative avenues to solving the complex health care questions of our time,” says Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., who also is a Senior Taubman Scholar and Taubman Institute director.
The new Taubman Scholars are:
Nicholas Boulis, M.D., Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurology at U-M and associate professor of Neurosurgery at Emory University: Boulis is working to develop stem cell and gene therapies to preserve and protect neurons from neurodegenerative diseases. In collaboration with Dr. Feldman, he has pioneered a procedure for implanting stem cells in the human spinal cord of patients with ALS, which is currently undergoing clinical trial.
Frank Brosius, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular & Integrative Physiology and Division Chief, Nephrology: Brosius is studying how elevated blood sugar levels and other diabetes-associated abnormalities lead to metabolic changes in kidney cells, which ultimately cause progressive kidney damage and failure. Using the same techniques, he hopes to find better diagnostic tests for diabetic kidney disease, the most common cause of kidney failure in the U.S., which can lead to earlier detection and more effective treatment.
Charles F. Burant, M.D., Ph.D., Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Metabolism, Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular and Integrative Physiology and Director, U-M Metabolomics and Obesity Center: Burant is studying new approaches to understanding and treating obesity. His research utilizes metabolomics, the measurement of small molecules (metabolites) in biological samples. Burant hopes to understand which metabolites play a role in signaling the brain that enough food has been eaten, providing a tool to preventing or treating obesity.
Arul M. Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., S.P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology; Professor of Urology; and Director, U-M Center for Translational Pathology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator: Chinnaiyan was the first to discover gene fusions in a common solid tumor - the joining together of two separate genes thought to be an important mechanism in prostate and other cancers. His lab is exploring whether gene fusions can serve as a biomarker for the characterization of the cancer, allowing clinicians to know how aggressive a case of prostate cancer is likely to be and how best to treat it.
David Ginsburg, M.D., James V. Neel Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator: Ginsburg is studying the science behind blood clotting.A major focus of his laboratory’s current work is on venous thromboembolism (VTE) — the process by which dangerous blood clots flow through the veins — and how to better diagnose and treat this condition.
Theodore S. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., Isadore Lampe Professor and Chair of Department of Radiation Oncology: Lawrence is studying how to combine radiation most effectively with molecularly targeted drugs to provide the best treatment for patients with liver and pancreas cancer. These drugs block cancer cells’ ability to hijack normal growth signals. Functional imaging techniques allow his team to target the highest doses of radiation to the most aggressive regions of the tumor.
Kenneth J. Pienta, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and of Urology; Director of Experimental Therapeutics, Michigan Center for Translational Pathology; and Principal Investigator, Specialized Program of Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer: Pienta’s research focuses on how prostate cancer cells metastasize to bone, where they can hide in the marrow for years before becoming aggressive. This finding suggests possible new biomarkers for diagnosing types of prostate cancer and possible new targets for therapy.
The Emerging Taubman Scholars are:
Ronald J. Buckanovich, M.D., Ph.D., Marvin and Betty Danto Family Foundation Emerging Scholarand Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and of Obstetrics and Gynecology: Buckanovich is studying novel diagnostic tests and therapeutic agents for women’s cancer, including breast and ovarian. His laboratory is developing immune-based therapies that can specifically kill the blood vessels of tumors and has identified two drugs that directly target cancer stem cells.
James Dowling, M.D., Ph.D., Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Emerging Scholar, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and of Neurology, and Director, Muscular Dystrophy Clinic: Dr. Dowling is investigating childhood onset muscle diseases, including myopathies and muscular dystrophies. These conditions are characterized by impairment in a child's ability to walk and run, and many patients with this group of disorders remain wheelchair dependent for life. His work is aimed at unlocking the biological mechanisms of these diseases, and then using that knowledge to develop new treatments for these devastating conditions.
Johann E. Gudjonsson, M.D., Ph.D., Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Emerging Scholarand Assistant Professor of Dermatology: Gudjonsson is pursuing novel approaches to the genetics and immunology of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin diseases. The goal is to advance our understanding of the genetic causes of these disorders, which may help in the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
Erika A. Newman, M.D., Edith Briskin Emerging/SKS Foundation Scholar and Assistant Professor of Pediatric Surgery: Newman is exploring the role of DNA repair in the development of the often fatal childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. She is studying the effect of faulty DNA repair in the embryonic development of the neural system, which may provide insight into the origins of neuroblastoma and allow a more targeted approach to effective treatment.
The Senior Taubman Scholars are:
Valerie Castle, M.D., Ravitz Professor and Chair, Department of Pediatric and Communicable Diseases, Pediatrician-in-Chief and Director of the Taubman Institute's Neuroblastoma Research Program: Castle is conducting a clinical trial of new drug that may reduce the chemotherapy resistance of the deadly childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. In addition, by comparing embryonic stem cell lines that she differentiates into neural crest stem cells with neuroblastoma cancer cells she has established in her laboratory, she hopes to gain insights into the origins of the disease.
Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology; Director of the Taubman Institute, Director of the Program for Research & Discovery: Feldman is conducting the first FDA-approved human clinical trial of a stem cell treatment for ALS. At the same time, she is working to adapt that stem cell therapy to treat Alzheimer’s disease. She is also a leading authority on diabetes-related neuropathy.
David Pinsky, M.D., J. Griswold Ruth MD & Margery Hopkins Ruth Professor of Internal Medicine; Professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology; Chief, Cardiovascular Medicine and Director, Cardiovascular Center: Pinsky has discovered compounds that can increase the body’s own natural defenses to the damage caused by strokes. These enzymes protect not only the blood vessels of the brain but blood vessels elsewhere, too.
Max Wicha, M.D., Founding Director of U-M’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Internal Medicine: Wicha leads a team that is conducting the world’s first three human clinical trials targeting cancer stem cells, aimed at stunting the growth of these cells, which he believes drives the growth of tumors, or making them less resistant to other therapies.
For more information about the Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School, visit www.taubmaninstitute.org