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October 2010
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December 2010

Stratatech awarded $3.5 million to develop skin substitute

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

Nov. 16, 2010

Stratatech Corp. said Tuesday it has received a $3.5 million federal innovation grant to expand development of its anti-infective living human skin substitute.

The privately held Madison company received the fast-track Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Stratatech was one of just a few companies that received awards to develop therapies and diagnostic tools for drug-resistant bacteria with selected partners.

The company will partner with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Waisman Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility.

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UW-Madison chemists develop new stem cell system

By Mark Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Nov. 15, 2010

Since James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison became the first person to derive and grow human embryonic stem cells in 1998, the accomplishment has remained a considerable challenge for labs. The cells, which can become any cell in the human body, are notoriously finicky.

Now, a team from UW-Madison has developed a fully defined culture system that should result in more uniform cells, according to an article in the journal Nature Methods. Although human embryonic stem cells are not yet approved for use in therapy, the new culture system should make them safer for such a use.

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More than just a pretty flower

MIT chemists engineer the periwinkle plant to produce compounds that could become more-effective cancer drugs.
Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
November 4, 2010
Humans have long taken advantage of the huge variety of medicinal compounds produced by plants. Now MIT chemists have found a new way to expand plants’ pharmaceutical repertoire by genetically engineering them to produce unnatural variants of their usual products. 

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Sarah O’Connor, have added bacterial genes to the periwinkle plant, enabling it to attach halogens such as chlorine or bromine to a class of compounds called alkaloids that the plant normally produces. Many alkaloids have pharmaceutical properties, and halogens, which are often added to antibiotics and other drugs, can make medicines more effective or last longer in the body. 

The team’s primary target, an alkaloid called vinblastine, is commonly used to treat cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. O’Connor sees vinblastine and other drugs made by plants as scaffolds that she can modify in a variety of ways to enhance their effectiveness. 

“We’re trying to use plant biosynthetic mechanisms to easily make a whole range of different iterations of natural products,” she said. “If you tweak the structure of natural products, very often you get different or improved biological and pharmacological activity.”

O’Connor, graduate student Weerawat Runguphan and former postdoctoral associate Xudong Qu describe their engineered periwinkle plants in the Nov. 3 online edition of Nature. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

AST gets a boost

Start-up receives $450,000 from investors

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

A Milwaukee start-up that is developing tools to help researchers capture images of proteins in living cells has raised $450,000 from individual investors.

Aurora Spectral Technologies LLC is aiming to bring products to market that will help researchers and drug developers look more closely at proteins and better analyze them.

That could help researchers develop new drugs and diagnostic tests, and might eventually help provide more insight into cancer and other diseases, said Brian Thompson, the UWM foundation's president.

Aurora Spectral's technology comes out of the lab of Valerica Raicu, an associate professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physics department. Thomas Mozer is the new company's chief executive officer. Mozer founded Nerites Corp. and also previously ran Promega Corp.'s forensic business.

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