2020 Vision: JAX Grants Roundup

In 2020, The Jackson Laboratory was awarded over $100M in new federal, peer-reviewed foundation, and other grant funding to propel the research and education programs essential to its mission to improve human health. 

These 200+ awards cover a broad range of the independent nonprofit biomedical research institution’s focus areas including Alzheimer’s disease and aging, respiratory conditions and COVID-19, cancer, rare disease, cardiovascular diseases, and much more. Examples of JAX’s 2020 funding and achievements include:  

Alzheimer’s disease and aging research

  • JAX is home to one of only six National Institute on Aging (NIA)-funded Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, focused on investigating the myriad mechanisms of mammalian aging. The Center, led by Associate Professor Ron Korstanje, Ph.D. and Professor Gary Churchill, Ph.D., recently received funding renewal of $5.3M over the next five years to continue its work.

  • Expanding on the ongoing induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) Neurodegeneration Initiative project, the NIH awarded a three-year, $6.3M contract to Professor and Director, Cellular Engineering, Bill Skarnes, Ph.D. The funding supports the engineering and distribution of additional mutant iPSC lines useful for research into Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Respiratory conditions and COVID-19

  • Professor Karolina Palucka, M.D., Ph.D., received $1.1M in funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as a supplement to an $11M NIAID center grant that was awarded in 2019. Palucka will focus on understanding the specific mechanisms of coronavirus infection, and the work will provide a solid foundation for therapy and vaccine development and refinement.

  • Scientific Director and Professor Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., FMedSci, FAAHMS received two generous gifts from Tailwinds Foundation and Progress Charitable Foundation to develop mouse strains that reflect human genetic diversity for research into SARS-CoV-2 infection.

  • In addition to this funding, JAX played a pivotal role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and worked tirelessly to provide COVID-19 testing services for 80+ partner institutions in both Maine and Connecticut, utilizing JAX’s licensed CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and CAP-accredited laboratory. In addition, as COVID-19 impacted research activities across the country and around the world, JAX mounted an extraordinary rescue effort through cryopreservation services to help scientists facing shutdowns and ensure research continuity.

Cancer research

  • A $2.5M grant from The Mark Foundation will fund research into the genetics that underlie the highly variable responses to immunotherapies. Led by JAX President and CEO Edison Liu, M.D. and Associate Professor Laura Reinholdt, Ph.D., the research will use genetically diverse JAX mouse models to explore what factors affect immunotherapy efficacy and potentially reveal signatures that predict how well a particular therapy is likely to work in a specific patient.  

  • The Jackson Laboratory Cancer Center (JAXCC), established in 1983 and supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), had its prestigious NCI designation renewed for another five years, recognizing JAX’s focus on advancing precision oncology through basic research with the goal of translational and clinical impact. The JAXCC maintains its status as one of only seven basic research centers in the United States with this designation.

  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded Assistant Professor Gary Ren, Ph.D., a five-year, $1.9M R37 MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) grant for his research into tumor microenvironments. The MERIT mechanism allows investigators to extend their research for two years beyond successful completion of a base five-year R01 grant. Ren’s work seeks to identify strategies to improve breast cancer treatment efficacy, overcome therapy resistance, and prevent metastasis.

  • An exploratory $1.2M grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) will fund development of new genomic approaches and tools at JAX that can accurately characterize structural variants (SVs) and make SV analysis a standard practice in cancer genome research. Professor and Director of Genome Technologies Chia-Lin Wei, Ph.D. and Professor Roel Verhaak, Ph.D. will lead the effort.

Rare diseases

  • In order to accelerate therapy development for the estimated 25 million people living with a rare disease in the U.S., JAX’s NIH-funded Center for Precision Genetics received a five-year, $10.6M grant to develop a large-scale, multidisciplinary research program to find treatments for rare genetic diseases. Principal investigators Cat Lutz, Ph.D., who directs JAX’s Rare and Orphan Disease Center, and Associate Professor Steve Murray, Ph.D., will lead research using gene-editing technologies to develop new mouse models of specific genetic diseases, characterize and validate the models, and distribute them to the worldwide rare disease research community.

  • Building on funding secured in 2019 from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, a team led by Professor Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., along with Emily Germain-Lee, M.D. of UConn Health and Connecticut Children’s, published study results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2019, Lee and his team sent “Mighty Mice” to space to determine the effect of microgravity on JAX’s Mighty Mice (genetically engineered mice that lack myostatin and therefore display increased muscle mass). The study aimed to provide insights into the role myostatin plays in muscle and bone loss, which is suspected to have significant implications for future astronauts, the elderly or people who are bed-ridden, and those with diseases and conditions associated with muscle-wasting. The published results in 2020 proved that the Mighty Mice did stay relatively “mighty” during their time in microgravity, while the normal control mice lost considerable muscle mass and bone density. The findings have important implications for possible therapeutic strategies for space exploration and recovery after returning to gravity, as well as for earthbound people suffering from disuse atrophy.

  • JAX Professor Rob Burgess, Ph.D. was recognized with the prestigious Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award (R37) from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). This seven-year, more than $2.8M award supports Burgess’ investigation of dominant mutations in tRNA synthetase genes that cause diseases of the peripheral nervous system, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, to better understand the basis for these diseases and test possible pharmacological and gene therapy-based treatments.

Cardiovascular diseases

  • Supported by a four-year NIH U01 grant totaling approximately $3M, a team led by JAX Assistant Professor J. Travis Hinson, M.D., will develop a preclinical, three-dimensional model of human cardiac tissue to screen gene editing methods for cardiovascular disease. The work will assess delivery of the genome editing reagents—specifically CRISPR/Cas9—to the cell nuclei, their effects in the tissue and potential issues with immune response. The goal is to accelerate human clinical trials using genome editing therapies for cardiovascular disease.

  • The Paris-based Leducq Foundation is funding a five-year, $6.5M international research collaboration to investigate immune regulation of cardiac fibrosis and how the process can be altered for better outcomes. JAX Professor and Scientific Director Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., F.Med.Sci., will help spearhead the effort, which is part of Leducq’s Transatlantic Networks of Excellence in Cardiovascular and Neurovascular Research initiative – a program that gathers international teams of researchers with complementary expertise and resources. The team aims to make substantial progress in understanding the heart-immune connection in health and disease.

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