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News & Notes

JAX—West opens new facility

Grand opening of Jax—West

The Jackson Laboratory opened a small facility in West Sacramento, Calif., in 2001. Now, with a newly renovated 85,000-square-foot facility in Sacramento, The Jackson Laboratory—West can offer a much wider range of mice and services directly to the California research community. The Laboratory celebrated the opening of the new facility in May with a Grand Opening and Symposium.

"Today the Lab's sale of mice on the West Coast is growing rapidly, and its in vivo services are in demand throughout the scientific world," says Jackson Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Hewett, Ph.D. The new JAX—West space will enable more extensive in vivo service offerings, including cancer and stem cell research collaborations. California officials have noticed the Laboratory's expanded presence and recently awarded JAX—West a significant stem cell research grant.

The staff is dedicated to providing a pathogen-free environment for the laboratory animals and meeting the highest federal, state and voluntary standards for animal care, genetic quality control and health status. About 100 employees work in the new Sacramento facility.

Aging experiment gains worldwide attention

In a finding that garnered international headlines, Jackson Laboratory Professor David Harrison, Ph.D., and colleagues reported that they were able to extend the life span of aging mice with a drug. The paper, published online in Nature in July 2009, is the first report of a pharmacological intervention that lengthens the life of mammals.

The researchers used rapamycin, which has been shown to extend life span in yeast, worms and flies and is commonly given to human organ transplant recipients to prevent immune rejection of the new organ. When given to mice late in life, rapamycin extended the median and maximal life span of the treated animals by 9 to 14 percent.

Harrison et al. don't see rapamycin as a potential longevity drug because its immunosuppressive effects make those who take it highly susceptible to infectious diseases. Nonetheless, its mechanism is well understood, so the study results open potential avenues for improving treatment and prevention of age-related diseases and conditions.

Douglas Coleman wins Shaw Prize, creates endowments

Senior Staff Scientist Emeritus Douglas Coleman, Ph.D., received notice in June that he had won the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, widely regarded as the "Nobel of the East." Coleman, whose obesity and diabetes research during his 33 years at The Jackson Laboratory provided a foundation for much of today's research in the field, will share the prize with Jeffrey Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., of Rockefeller University. The two will also share the $1 million award. With his prize earnings, Coleman established two $100,000 endowments to support research and education at the Laboratory.

Coleman, who retired from the Laboratory in 1991, isolated what he described as a "satiety factor" that played a crucial role in weight regulation and diabetes in certain mice. Friedman later identified the factor as the hormone leptin and demonstrated that chemical and genetic factors, not just eating habits, contribute to obesity.

Coleman will formally receive the Shaw Prize at a ceremony in Hong Kong in October. His many other honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and the 2005 Gairdner Foundation Award.

New research facility construction under way

The Jackson Laboratory will soon have a lot more elbow room for its research and development efforts. Bolstered by a $4.7 million award from the Maine Technology Asset Fund, the Laboratory broke ground in August for a new mouse-importation research facility. The 22,500-square-foot building will greatly expand the Laboratory's ability to receive and characterize mice from other research institutions, and it will also free up significant space for other research.

The building is scheduled for completion in late 2010. The space should facilitate the development of new equipment, techniques and services that can be commercialized in partnership with Maine companies.

Leukemia stem cell finding employs unlikely resource

Research at The Jackson Laboratory has yielded a new approach to treating leukemia, by targeting leukemia stem cells with a drug that's already on the market.

In research published in June in the journal Nature Genetics researchers led by Jackson Adjunct Professor Shaoguang Li, M.D., Ph.D., identified a gene involved with the inflammatory response that could hold the key to treating or even preventing chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a lethal cancer. The gene, Alox5, is known to process essential fatty acids into leukotrienes, important agents in the inflammatory response. According to the researchers, it is vital to the development and maintenance of cancer stem cells. The study found that the drug Zileuton, a known inhibitor of the Alox5 pathway and already a common asthma medication, proved to be a better therapy for CML in mice than Imatinib, the most effective current leukemia medication. The two drugs combined were better still. More study is needed, but the potential for rapid and effective translation of the findings to the clinic is high.

Symposium wows full house

What will medicine look like in the next half century? What role will genetics play? Some of the world's leading scientists and physicians speculated on these and related questions on July 31 before a standing-room-only audience in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Symposium on Biomedical Science and Medicine in the Next 50 Years was a special one-day public program co-produced by The Jackson Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University. It capped the 50th anniversary of the Short Course on Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics, which has trained more than 4,000 geneticists and doctors, and bridged the knowledge gap between mouse genetics and human genetics.

The presenters also joined National Public Radio's Joe Palca, Ph.D., for two panel discussions to answer audience questions and expand upon their work.

Mice reveal acetaminophen sensitivity in humans

Jackson Professor Ken Paigen, Ph.D., and colleagues are researching a common painkiller to make drug discovery and development less expensive and more precise. Using a common and easily measured toxic response to a medication—in this case liver toxicity from acetaminophen—Paigen teamed with David Threadgill, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina to develop a better first-stage drug test in mice. As reported in Genome Research in early May, the scientists used a carefully chosen panel of genetically diverse mice to observe which strains had a toxic reaction to acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol;reg; and to identify the genes involved. Armed with this knowledge, they were then able to use tests in human subjects to isolate a gene—known as CD44—that was responsible for much of the variation in toxic side effects in humans.

Current first-stage drug testing usually involves mice that are not genetically diverse and not well characterized. Unexpected side effects frequently occur once a drug gets to the clinical testing stage. With more powerful genetics tools and better up-front screening, drug development in the future can be made more efficient and more effective for the patients needing better therapies.

Sam Little named president of The National Council

Jackson Laboratory Trustee Sam Little was named president of The National Council at the Laboratory's Annual Meeting and Discovery Day in Bar Harbor in August. Little succeeds outgoing National Council President Bill Rudolf. Little is an architect with a focus on transportation and environmental planning. He is the grandson of Laboratory founder C.C. Little, and he and his family have continued a close association with the Laboratory. Little joined The Jackson Laboratory's Corporation in 1987 and has served on the Board of Trustees since 2000. He lives in Philadelphia.

The National Council is an influential network of the Laboratory's friends, supporters and advocates. It seeks to educate the public about human disease and health, and empower the Laboratory through volunteer service and philanthropic support. National Council members engage with scientists and staff to learn more about research at the Laboratory and how it contributes to better human health.

JAX—West receives grant to speed development of new therapies

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state's stem cell agency, awarded The Jackson Laboratory—West a $3.4 million grant in June to help speed the development of new therapies for cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other diseases. JAX—West in Sacramento, Calif., which provides research services to the West Coast biomedical community, will use the grant to develop new mouse models of human disease that can be used to test innovative stem cell treatments.

The grant is part of a $40.6 million package to California universities and public and private research laboratories. The grant "will allow us to develop new and more relevant mouse models of disease that can sustain human stem cell engraftment," says JAX—West Program Director Leon Hall, Ph.D. "This should eliminate a major barrier to the translation of basic stem cell research to the clinic."