The Japanese trading firm Marubeni has awarded Columbia $2.75 million to support research in age-related neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, using a technique that quantifies gene expression in brain tissue.
"It has become clear in the past two decades that advances in medicine that promote longevity increase a person's risk for age-associated neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases," says Michael Shelanski, Delafield Professor of Pathology and Chairman of the Department of Pathology at Columbia's College of Physicians & Surgeons and co-investigator on the project. "We believe our methodology will help us find new targets in the brain to help prevent and treat these disorders."
The research aims to look at differences in gene expression in diseased versus healthy brain tissue. The researchers will use Serial Analysis of Gene Expression, or SAGE, a method that tracks gene expression in cells by creating unique identifying tags from each gene transcript and then submitting all the tags to high-throughput sequencing. "By comparing transcripts from tissue of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease patients to healthy tissue, we aim to find those genes associated with neuronal cell death," says Lloyd Greene, professor of pathology at P&S and co-investigator on the project. "Once identified, the genes could be potential targets for therapeutic drug development."
"We are pleased to establish this important business collaboration with Columbia which will help deepen the activity of the Marubeni Corporation for the emerging industries in the United States as well as Japan," says Kazuo Ogawa, director of Marubeni.
"Columbia has a strong background in technology transfer and licensing opportunities -- ranking first among United States universities for the past three years," says Ofra Weinberger, director of Science and Technology Ventures, Columbia's technology transfer division. "Marubeni's interest in supporting our research and technology development opens the door for other Japanese companies and individual investors to further the growth of emerging industries.
In addition to the $2.75 million for research finding genes associated with neuronal cell death using SAGE technology, Marubeni has agreed to lead an investment fund that will provide capital for Columbia's technology transfer and commercialization efforts in emerging industries such as health sciences and nanotechnology. The initial capitalization of the Marubeni fund is expected to be more than $20 million. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed and the fund is expected to be established later this year.