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    • Discoveries – 2014

      Spotlighting the economic impact of Colorado and Wyoming’s research universities, federal labs, and related industries.

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    • CU’s ClinImmune Labs enters private cord-blood banking arena

      As the global market around umbilical cord blood stem-cell treatments reaches well into the billions of dollars annually, the University of Colorado has taken a pioneering step of sorts by expanding its own cord-blood banking services into the private realm. ClinImmune Labs, a company owned by CU and housed at the school’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, has served as a public cord blood bank for 17 years. But ClinImmune last year began a public-private partnership with Irvine, Calif.-based CariCord Inc. to begin providing private banking. The arrangement makes ClinImmune Labs the first Food and Drug Administration-licensed laboratory in the country doing private banking. Cord blood banking has grown in recent years as advances in medicine have increased the number of conditions and diseases that can be treated with transplanted cord-blood stem cells. That list includes more than 80 diseases, including certain types of leukemia and various blood, immune and metabolic disorders. Analysts for investment banking firm Jefferies estimated the 2010 global market for cord blood storage to be $4 billion. The stem cells from cord blood are considered in some ways to be a better option than those from bone marrow. In addition to a lower chance of rejection by the recipient’s body, privately banked cord blood stem cells are also more readily available for children or their siblings to use, eliminating what can often be a months-long search for a bone marrow donor. Advocates of the practice have likened the cells to a “cellular legacy for the future.” “The benefit of cord blood is it’s available immediately,” said Dr. Brian Freed, executive director of ClinImmune Labs and a co-founder of CariCord. ClinImmune serves many functions in addition to cord-blood banking. Its services include stem cell processing, testing for bone marrow and organ transplants, and immunology testing, among others. The lab is owned, and supported in part, by the CU School of Medicine, but as a business it also generates nearly $10 million in revenue for the school each year. Co-founded by Freed and company chief executive Calvin Cole, CariCord licenses the company name from CU and essentially works as the client-facing operation of the private banking now being done at the school. Parents banking their children’s blood pay CariCord, while CariCord contracts with the university for processing and banking. “(CariCord doesn’t) have to worry about building the facility, and (ClinImmune Labs doesn’t) have to worry about advertising and sales and things we don’t know anything about,” Freed said. CariCord charges $1,695 upfront plus about $125 each following year for banking. That’s similar to the other two major players in the industry, Cord Blood Registry and Viacord. CBR charges $1,650 upfront plus $150 per year and also offers a one-time lifetime fee of $4,000. Viacord charges $1,375 upfront and $175 per year. Where CariCord’s advantage comes in, Freed said, is in the ClinImmune Labs bank, which has stored more than 8,500 donated cord blood units at its public bank, leading to more than 725 transplants at 150 different locations […]

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    • CSU center working on brain trauma prevention

      FORT COLLINS – Injuries sustained by everyone from infants to soldiers could one day be much less traumatic, thanks to research being conducted with the help of the Colorado Center for Drug Discovery, a state-funded program located at Colorado State University. The drug research center, or C2D2, has developed preliminary compounds that could lessen the impact of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Such injuries have become a hot topic nationwide because of their increasing prevalence among veterans and professional athletes. An initial injury can occur in an instant, when an improvised explosive device detonates in Iraq or a National Football League player sustains a particularly hard hit, but the effects are felt long after the injury is suffered. Swelling in the brain, death of brain cells and inflammation – collectively known as secondary brain injury – all are potential problems for someone with TBI. If the secondary injury is severe enough, it can cause cognitive, behavioral or emotional impairments or can ultimately lead to death. In 2010, 2.5 million instances of TBI were recorded in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 20 percent of the troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 have suffered a traumatic brain injury. But a 2009 breakthrough by a University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine scientist and subsequent work at C2D2 could help future sufferers of TBI avoid these problems. Kim Heidenreich, a professor of pharmacology at CU’s medical school, discovered that blocking the production of leukotrienes, a type of inflammatory molecule that often is associated with asthma, at the time the initial brain injury is sustained can help prevent secondary injury down the road. In order to block leukotrienes, a drug containing a protein known as FLAP must be administered either just before or just after brain injury is sustained, said Heidenreich. That drug is what C2D2 is helping Heidenreich develop, by providing the chemistry needed to supplement the biology done by Heidenreich and her fellow researchers. The center’s associate director, Greg Miknis, and a team of scientists have identified compounds that have proved effective, opening the door for clinical trials and the long process of getting a drug approved and commercialized. Heidenreich’s plan is to repurpose drugs developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) for treating asthma, which would speed up the drug’s voyage to commercialization. Even so, getting the drug to market will take years. The compounds that have been formed are “exquisitely potent,” said Miknis, as they must be in order to penetrate the brain. “The brain is really good at keeping things out,” Miknis said. The brain’s ability to protect itself also is the reason the drug must be administered at the time of injury. “There’s a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier when the injury occurs,” Heidenreich said. That lowering of the brain’s defense system allows the drugs to make their way to the brain. “But the window does close at some point,” she said. More funding needs to […]

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    • Light pulses could boost space veggies’ nutrition

      BOULDER – University of Colorado researchers are studying the effects of light pulses on the growth and nutrition retention of plants to be consumed by astronauts during space flight. Specifically, the research group is using different methodologies to grow plants rapidly and trigger the retention of certain carotenoids, specifically zeaxanthin, which are important to protect human vision from the exposure of low-level radiation during long-duration manned spaceflight missions. According to a NASA research study, one of the main problems for astronauts traveling on long-duration space flight is the exposure to ionizing radiation and the consequent oxidative stress, which can harm the retina. Gioia Massa, a project scientist in International Space Station ground processing and research with the NASA Kennedy Space Center, said that NASA has been looking for ways to produce nutrient-rich vegetables in space, safe for astronaut consumption. “A space diet has certain things in the prepackaged diet, but might be low or deficient in certain nutrients,” she said. “The farther away you get from Earth, the more DNA-level damage there is. There are potentially some plant-based beneficial compounds that could help or prevent this. It’s a really promising area for study.” Massa said that NASA is looking to implement a vegetable production system on the next space resupply mission in the near future. “If plants are grown under certain conditions, they might be able to express more phytochemicals and get higher levels of nutrients, which can help keep the crew healthy,” she said. Compounds absorbed by the human body, such as zeaxanthin, can help prevent biological damage to eyes during spaceflight. Zeaxanthin, which is known to promote eye health, could be ingested as a supplement, but there is evidence that humans are better at absorbing carotenoids from whole foods, such as green leafy vegetables. The human body cannot produce zeaxanthin on its own. The CU team included undergraduate researcher Elizabeth Lombardi, postdoctoral researcher Christopher Cohu, and ecology and evolutionary biology professors William Adams and Barbara Demmig-Adams. With the study idea conceived by Lombardi, the team set out to determine the best way to simulate plant growth while also retaining high amounts of carotenoids. Current studies of space gardening tend to focus on rapid plant growth, producing large plants as fast as possible while providing optimal light, water and fertilizer. Although this process can yield larger plants, the nutritional value may be depleted because of hurried growth and synthetic climate conditions. “There is a trade-off,” Demmig-Adams said in a statement. “When we pamper plants in the field, they produce a lot of biomass but they aren’t very nutritious. If they have to fend for themselves – if they have to defend themselves against pathogens or if there’s a little bit of physical stress in the environment – plants make defense compounds that help them survive. And those are the antioxidants that we need.” Using two lines of species of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, the research team altered conditions to mimic different climates. They found that manipulating growth conditions to […]

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