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Einstein Research Plan Update Calls for New shRNA Facility, New Metabolomics Equipment, Staff

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University plans to establish a short hairpin RNA facility, bolster its existing metabolomics core, and expand its clinical trial capacity, according to a strategic research plan update unveiled by the school this week.

The shRNA facility would allow researchers to carry out much faster research with fewer people by integrating newer technology that uses artificial short interfering RNA with gene-specific sequences expressed by a lentivirus vector as shRNA to selectively silence the expression of the corresponding gene. The facility would also use robotics technology platforms capable of processing thousands of biological samples in parallel, providing the medical college with the ability to analyze tens of thousands of microculture wells, the plan stated.

The updated strategic plan noted that shRNA facilities like the one proposed for the medical college exist in "a handful" of medical and research centers worldwide, and thus "would provide a powerful new resource for Einstein research."

"Just as Google revolutionized our ability to access individual facts from the thousands of terabytes of information on the web, the proposed Einstein shRNA Functional Genomics Facility has the potential to transform our capacity to identify the individual genes responsible for many diseases including cancer and autoimmune disorders," the strategic research plan stated. "Establishing a state-of-the-art shRNA Functional Genomics Facility will require a facility director, robotic equipment, and molecular supplies."

The timing of these and other steps to implement the updated plan has yet to be determined. "There are many details still to be worked out," an Einstein spokeswoman, Kimberly Newman, told GenomeWeb Daily News.

The update of Einstein's 2007 strategic research plan also calls for expansion of Einstein's metabolomics core facility, within its Stable Isotope & Metabolomics research core. According to Einstein, its researchers use metabolomics approaches to study the regulation of mTOR, a protein believed to play a key role in cellular processes that include growth, proliferation, motility, and response to nutrient availability. The function or dysfunction of mTOR has been associated with cancer, fragile X syndrome, parasite infection, aging, and diabetes.

"Interest and usage of the recently-established Einstein Metabolomics Core is also spreading at a national level, with inquiries from other institutions including Mount Sinai, Columbia, and Vanderbilt," the new strategic plan disclosed. "Expansion and technical development of the Metabolomics Core Facility will provide critical infrastructure for multiple research centers and programs and will create new opportunities for collaborative research."

That infrastructure, the updated plan concluded, should include a Leco Corp. gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometer; a Seahorse XF24 flux analyzer; a matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization or MALDI mass spectrometric imaging station; and an Advion TriVersa NanoMate, an electrospray ionization system that combines liquid chromatography, fraction collection, and chip-based infusion.

According to the plan update, the metabolomics facility will also need three new staffers — a mass spectroscopy technician, a mass spectroscopist, and a research technician.

Einstein's principal teaching affiliate, Montefiore Medical Center, serves as the clinical training site for the school's medical education programs. In recent years, the medical college said, it has moved to more closely align its research programs with the clinical care programs of Montefiore in order to advance personalized medicine. In 2008, NIH awarded both institutions a $22 million, five-year Clinical and Translational Science Awards grant to create the Einstein-Montefiore Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

"Einstein and Montefiore are moving from collaborative but separate institutions to a joint clinical and translational research enterprise," the strategic plan update stated.

As a result, Einstein said, it will focus in coming years on enhancing clinical trials capacity, co-recruiting an unspecified number of clinical researchers with Montefiore, as well as establishing a biorepository, databases, and an IT strategy.

The school noted that the clinical and translational research center and other efforts have created biorepositories and databases for areas including liver disease/primary liver cancer, cervical and ovarian cancer, and head and neck cancer, while Einstein faculty member Bruce Rapkin and his colleagues have established community-based cancer databases.

"But there is a need to move beyond these few specialized areas if we are to take full advantage of the clinical/translational research opportunities at the Einstein-Montefiore interface," the updated strategic plan concluded. "Providing an information and technology infrastructure that supports unimpeded data assembly for biospecimen research, data exchange, data sharing, and wider integration with basic science laboratories will enable more efficient and effective healthcare and research."

To that end, the plan added, Einstein's priorities will include working with Montefiore to expand support for computing equipment and facilities; conduct a needs assessment and evaluation of the Einstein-Montefiore research partnership; improve data management for investigators; and implement a clinical trials management system to enable the expansion of multicenter trials.

Einstein released the strategic research plan update on Monday, in an announcement that also noted the medical college finished its fiscal year ending June 30 with about $200 million in research funding from NIH, a 32 percent increase over the previous year's $150 million.

During a presentation to Einstein's Faculty Senate earlier this month, Allen Spiegel, the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean at the medical college, acknowledged that the greater availability in NIH funding through the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a factor in the FY 2010 surge. One example of the stimulus measure benefiting Einstein was the $10 million grant announced in April toward construction of new labs for the Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research.

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