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News & Notes

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine

Pictured are Connecticut Gov. Dannel
Malloy (left) and the Laboratory's Edison Liu (center).

On Jan. 5, 2012, The Jackson Laboratory, the University of Connecticut, the UConn Health Center and Connecticut Innovations officially signed an agreement forming The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX Genomic Medicine), a new institute established to accelerate the development of genomics-based personalized medicine. The agreement was announced by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and followed the Oct. 26, 2011, approval by the Connecticut General Assembly of $291 million in bond funding.

JAX Genomic Medicine will begin operations in leased space this year. Its 173,000-square-foot permanent facility will be built on a 17-acre site on the UConn Health Center campus in Farmington, Conn., and will be designed to house 300 biomedical researchers, technicians and support staff within the first 10 years.

"We're delighted that we could reach an agreement so quickly for JAX Genomic Medicine," Jackson President and CEO Edison Liu, M.D., said at the signing. "Our grand vision is for personalized, individual and precise medical care. The goal of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine is to use the world's most cutting-edge science to make this vision a reality, and in the process contribute to Connecticut's bioscience economy."

In his announcement, Gov. Malloy praised the parties for constructive negotiations. "For the project's impact to begin as soon as possible—to get people working and to start the flow of bioscience investments—it was important to get it moving forward quickly," Malloy said. "I want to commend everyone in on the negotiations."

The project has in fact moved forward quickly since the signing of the agreement. Centerbrook Architects and Planners of Centerbrook, Conn., and Tsoi/Kobus & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., have been chosen to collaborate on the plan and design the permanent facility. Gilbane Inc., a New England construction company with expertise in the construction of complex research and lifescience buildings, was selected as program manager.

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and be completed by early 2014. In the meantime, temporary facilities on the UConn Health Center campus will be occupied by Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., and his research team later this year.

Additional recruiting is under way, and by the end of the year about 25 scientists and staff will occupy the temporary lab and office space. JAX Genomic Medicine will draw upon the Laboratory's eight decades of genetics research in combination with the medical expertise of Connecticut's universities and hospitals, including UConn Health Center.

Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., joins JAX Genomic Medicine

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine is progressing rapidly, and the Laboratory announced that Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., will be the first faculty member to join the new facility in Farmington, Conn. Ruan is currently associate director and senior group leader at the Genome Institute of Singapore, and he is known for his pioneering work in DNA sequencing and analysis. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and is an author on 70 research papers. He also holds multiple patents for DNA analysis techniques.

"Yijun's broad interests in genome biology, coupled with his innovative approach to developing new research techniques, make him an ideal member of the new JAX Genomic Medicine research team," said Robert Braun, Ph.D., associate director and chair of research.

Ruan has also been appointed director of JAX Genomic Sciences, and he will bring his current research program and team with him to JAX Genomic Medicine. He will move into leased space this year, then into the institute's permanent 173,000-square-foot facility when it is ready for occupancy in 2014.

Teacher-enrichment program receives grant

A recent $100,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will allow more Maine teachers to experience an innovative program at The Jackson Laboratory.

The Teacher Sabbatical Internship Program provides public-school math and science teachers in Maine with hands-on research experience at the Laboratory. The teacher-interns also take a three-credit course taught by University of Maine faculty on the Laboratory campus that explores the pedagogical strategies that help students learn to think independently.

As part of the curriculum, teachers read background literature, write a research proposal, conduct research, and summarize their findings orally and in a written research paper. The new grant will support the next four years of internships.

"Regrettably, Maine ranks last in producing science and engineering graduate students," says Randy Smith, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory's educational programs, "a circumstance that ultimately has negative economic consequences on the state and its citizens. We believe this gift is the best possible way to support effective, innovative science teaching and to make a huge difference in the education and future careers of Maine students."

Maine State Science Fair gains funding

Megan Currie, one of the grand-prize winners in the Maine State Science Fair.

The Jackson Laboratory has again hosted the Maine State Science Fair, held on March 24. Recent funding awards have ensured support for the Laboratory's goals of expanding participation by schools and students throughout Maine.

The Laboratory, which hosted the Fair for the first time in 2011, has already expanded and enhanced it. Student applications are up 47 percent from last year, and winners of the 2012 Fair are eligible for the first time in Maine history to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, to be held in Pittsburgh in May.

Vital support for the effort has been provided by grants totaling $70,000 from The Betterment Fund, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the Dorr Foundation and Bank of America. The importance of science fairs was noted in a recent editorial by Associate Director and Chair of Research Robert Braun, Ph.D.

"Talk to many of the world's top scientists and they'll tell you stories of how participating in science fairs transformed them by showing them they enjoyed science and were good at it."

New York Genome Center launched

The New York Genome Center (NYGC), slated to be one of the largest genomic facilities in North America, was launched at a ceremony in New York City last fall. Among the 11 founding members of the center, The Jackson Laboratory joins forces with 10 top New York medical and academic research institutes in the effort.

Through the collaboration, researchers from the Laboratory and other member institutions will benefit from the NYGC's significant DNA-sequencing capability and expertise. They will also share diverse clinical and genomic data on a scale not yet realized in order to discover the molecular underpinnings of disease; identify and validate biomarkers; and accelerate development of novel diagnostics and targeted therapeutics to improve clinical care. The NYGC's clinical partner institutions, including Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center and others, reach well over 5 million patients combined and are known as leaders in a variety of medical specialties.

It is expected that the NYGC's sequencing capacity will provide a valuable resource for the JAX Genomic Medicine effort in nearby Connecticut. "In direct partnership with the University of Connecticut Health Center, we will be working with clinicians and patients to develop the tools and strategies to deliver personalized disease management such as comprehensive diagnostics that can tailor the selection of efficacious therapeutics for each individual patient," says President and CEO Edison Liu, M.D. "Going forward, JAX and our clinical partners at UConn will deeply engage the New York Genome Center and sister member institutions in building and strengthening your collective enterprise."

Two elected to Board of Trustees

The Jackson Laboratory's Board of Trustees elected two new members in November 2011: Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., and David J. Roux.

Rice, of New York, N.Y., heads the Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease at The Rockefeller University. He is the founder of Apath, LLC, a technology licensing company with a focus on the hepatitis C virus and other human viral pathogens. He serves on scientific advisory boards at GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.

He is a member of the editorial board of PloS Pathogens and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He holds numerous patents related to hepatitis C virus molecular biology and has published over 250 original research publications in peer-reviewed journals and numerous review articles and book chapters.

Roux, of Upperville, Va., is a cofounder and chairman of Silver Lake, a global private investment firm with approximately $14 billion in assets under management and offices in Menlo Park, New York, London, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Tokyo. He was formerly chairman and CEO of Liberate Technologies, executive vice president at Oracle Corporation and senior vice president at Lotus Development.

Roux began his technology career as co-founder and CEO of Datext, Inc., the first commercial CDROM publishing company. He currently serves on the board of directors at Intelsat and Avaya.