Efforts to recruit a senior faculty researcher to develop an important Binghamton biotechnology initiative got a major boost this week with the announcement that the University will receive a $736,000 faculty development grant through the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research.
The award was announced by Gov. George E. Pataki and is part of more than $6.3 million in NYSTAR funding to help nine public and private universities in New York recruit and retain leading research faculty in science and technology fields with strong commercial potential.
Vice President for Research Frances Carr said Binghamton plans to use the money to further efforts to recruit a “world-class scientist” from a Midwestern research university.
Among other things, the University expects to use the money for the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment, support services and research personnel to work with the senior faculty member. The University will pay the salary of the faculty member if the recruitment effort is successful.
The researcher is being sought to develop a research program focusing on transgenic vectors-or parvoviruses-to repair gene defects that cause a variety of diseases including cancer, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
Parvoviruses constitute a unique group of single-stranded DNA containing viruses that infect literally all vertebrate species. Though some parvoviruses are extremely common in humans, they are not associated with any human disease and are very amenable to genetic manipulation in the laboratory. Because of that they have recently attracted interest as potential vector systems-or biological shuttles- for gene therapy.
Unlike other proposed human virus therapeutic vector systems, parvovirus-derived vectors will offer the opportunity for controlled insertion of therapeutic genes at a particular site within the human genome and a remarkable tissue-specific restriction of cell infection, Carr said.
BU’s Center for Transgenic Vector Development will be a world-class hub for research on human virus therapeutic vector systems and the development of novel therapeutic interventions, she added.
In studies of such systems, the manipulation of parvoviruses has demonstrated enormous promise as a treatment for a number of life-threatening illnesses. Preclinical trials in the Midwest are using animal models to look at the effectiveness of parvovirus vectors in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, myocardial infarction, liver cirrhosis, colon and pancreatic tumors and other serious health threats. Because these vectors can be introduced by direct injection into bone marrow, they are also expected to provide a safer and more cost-effective treatment for such common genetic blood disorders as sickle-cell anemia and beta-thalassemia.
The transgenic vector center will be housed at the Innovative Technologies Complex at the eastern edge of the campus, where the University is planning to use $15 million in state Gen*NY*sis funds to renovate the former New York State Electric and Gas Corp. corporate office. Senator Thomas Libous helped the University to secure the funds from the state Senate’s Gen*NY*sis program -Generating Employment through New York Science. Plans are to upgrade the former NYSEG building as a mixed-use facility to support science and engineering research, community outreach, technology transfer and faculty-related business incubation.