CHICAGO—Last month, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFU) announced the formation of three new disease-based research centers. The new centers will join the new Brain Science Institute and its three supporting centers, which were announced in February, in the Innovation and Research Park currently being constructed on RFU’s campus.
“We’re realigning our research strengths around core areas of scientific expertise with the goal of fostering innovation to help move our research out of the lab and into the marketplace to improve human health,” said Dr. K. Michael Welch, RFU president and CEO.
So, what does this trio of new additions offer?
The Center for Genetic Diseases, under the direction of Michelle Hastings, an associate professor of cell biology at Chicago Medical School, will look at a number of deadly diseases caused by aberrant RNA and expand the utilization of a novel antisense oligonucleotide platform that is designed to target and remedy specific genetic defects, based on Dr Hastings’ extant publications in the field.
Diseases currently targeted include cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Usher syndrome, Batten disease and Down syndrome. But of course the research could go much deeper and broader—after all, according to not-for-profit Global Genes, rare diseases and disorders currently number approximately 7,000, with more discovered each day. It is estimated that there are 30 million people in the United States currently living with rare genetic diseases or disorders.
Next is the Center for Cancer Cell Biology, Immunology, and Infection—for which RFU is currently searching “for the right director” to lead it—which will work to promote a greater understanding of basic cell and molecular biology, infection and cancer immunotherapy. Cancer and infectious diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, but there have been great revolutionary advancements in therapeutic intervention, the university notes. This center will investigate the mechanisms that underlie fundamental processes such as tissue development, oncogenic viral infection, oncogenesis and stress and immune responses.
RFU hopes this knowledge will provide new insights that lead to the development of new preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for cancer and immunocompromised diseases. In addition, the center will study the changes in genome architecture and gene expression during stress, oncogenesis and metastasis, looking to further understand how cancer cells are created and what influences cancer progression.
The third center, the Center for Proteomics and Molecular Therapeutics, will operate under the direction of Marc Jay Gluckman, who is a Chicago Medical School professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology, as well as director of the Midwest Proteome Center. The center will develop novel broad-based, mass screening procedures to identify biomarkers and assess structure-function relationships for diagnostics, risk factors and drug targets for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and endocrine cancers, including prostate cancer.
With the growth of precision medicine, also known as personalized medicine, which targets specific subpopulations of patients with similar disease profiles, biomarkers are becoming critical to screening key patient populations.
Formed in 1912 as the Chicago Hospital-College of Medicine, RFU is a national leader in interprofessional medical and healthcare education and biomedical research. RFU includes the Chicago Medical School, School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, College of Health Professions, Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine and College of Pharmacy.
With the development of the new Innovation and Research Park, RFU hopes to place academia and industry together to collaborate on common goals, so that pioneering developments in the lab can become life-changing and life-saving therapeutics in hospitals and clinics.
The previously announced Brain Science Institute (BSI) is focused on identifying and solving the fundamental issues and diseases that affect brain function and development. Insights gained are used to understand the mechanisms of brain disease, leading to the development of new research tools, diagnostics to detect early onset of disease and novel therapeutics and treatments.
The centers supporting the BSI are the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Therapeutics, the Center for Brain Function and Repair and the Center for Stress Resilience and Psychiatric Disorders. BSI areas of research conducted within the centers at the university related to major brain disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury and anxiety disorders, in addition to brain stem cell research.
“We’re recognizing both our own areas of research strength as well as significant bioscience industry interest in developing new diagnostics and therapeutics in genetic diseases, cancer and protein-based therapies and biomarkers,” said Ronald Kaplan, RFU’s executive vice president for research. “This realignment positions us to partner more effectively with industry to achieve important advancements in patient care and wellness.”