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Medical Center and College of Medicine research growth continues

A growing investment in and commitment to personalized medicine and continued success in securing external support for research activity at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine will be highlights of the Medical Center's public board of directors meeting tomorrow (Sept. 12).

Harold L. Paz, Medical Center CEO, Penn State's senior vice president for health affairs, and dean, Penn State College of Medicine, will report that Medical Center and College of Medicine faculty earned a record $106.9 million in external research support in 2011-12, a $1.5 million gain over last year's research funding total. Paz also will highlight early developments of the Penn State Hershey Institute for Personalized Medicine, launched in January.

Medical Center and College investigators received 556 grant awards from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, with $65.2 million coming from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The new Institute for Personalized Medicine brings together faculty, resources and programs devoted to advancing the relatively new field of personalized medicine, one of the most promising frontiers in medicine. The new institute is working in close collaboration with departments and institutes across the Hershey campus, including the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and on Penn State’s University Park campus to advance research in the field and to translate that research into clinical applications.

The goal of personalized medicine is to improve patient outcomes by tailoring treatments based on an individual's biologic makeup, including their genetic endowment. Using high-powered computational tools and techniques and advanced bioinformatics expertise, the personalized medicine approach will enable researchers and physicians to predict and even prevent many health issues, and to better prescribe the right therapy for the right person at the right time.

“With the inauguration of the Institute for Personalized Medicine, we have reasserted our early leadership in the science of tailoring therapy to individuals, an approach that in some ways began at Hershey with the observations around pharmacogenetics by our founding chair of pharmacology, Elliot Vesell, more than 40 years ago,” said Daniel Notterman, vice dean for research and graduate studies. “We are proud to be carrying on that tradition of taking innovative approaches to science that hold real potential for improving the lives of those we serve.”

Paz also will share other research highlights from fiscal year 2012, including:

— Receipt of a $1 million research grant award from the PA Department of Health's CURE program to support development of nanotechnology to deliver cancer-fighting medications directly into cancer cells, work done by Mark Kester, pharmacology.

— Receipt of $1.2 million from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute as part of an initiative to support human health during spaceflight. Through the award, College of Medicine researchers led by Henry Donahue will launch an investigation of the relationship between bone loss and muscle atrophy, two afflictions that are often reported by astronauts as side effects of space travel.

— The College of Medicine's increasing activity related to technology transfer — the process of moving promising research discoveries into the marketplace for development, testing and commercialization — including a $425,000 Discovered in PA, Developed in PA (D2PA) program grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to support initiatives like the Executive-in-Residence Program and Innovation Cafe.

— Two new basic science department chairs joined the faculty: James Broach became chair of Biochemistry and Microbiology in January and also serves as director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine, and Aron Lukacher became chair of Microbiology and Immunology in February.

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