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Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

State Museum exhibit highlights IU Life Sciences Week

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 21st century has been hailed as the dawn of the "genetics revolution," an era when scientists from a variety of fields are exploring and explaining the complex universe of the building blocks of life.

In many important ways, Indiana University researchers have been on the front lines of that revolution. That is the basis for the university's observances of Life Sciences Week, Jan. 22-29.

One of the most visible ways IU will convey its message to Hoosiers is through an interactive exhibit it designed for the Indiana State Museum, "Genes and Your Health," which opened at the museum in late December and will be on display there through May. After that it will be displayed at science museums throughout the state.

"Indiana University has a long and distinguished history of research in molecular biology, genetics and analytical chemistry, the foundations of modern advances in the life sciences," said IU President Adam W. Herbert. "The university also has established world-class core facilities in genomics, imaging, proteomics, protein expression, animal models, medical informatics and bioinformatics. We are home to the state's only medical school, whose research funding has more than doubled within the past five years. We also are positioned to become a national leader in life sciences research and education."

Life Sciences Week highlights the many ways IU researchers and educators prepare tomorrow's health care professionals, teachers, business leaders and researchers on its eight campuses and nine medical education centers. About 6,350 IU employees are involved in research across the state.

"Genomics, proteomics, the informatics sciences -- all of these research fields and technologies have changed forever the way life sciences research is done, and they've permeated the IU School of Medicine," said Ora Pescovitz, M.D., executive associate dean for research affairs, and president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children.

"Genes and Your Health" details how university researchers at the School of Medicine and the Bloomington campus are making use of new information and technology to understand the genetics of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

A particular focus of the exhibit is the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, which was created in 1987 and has been funded continuously by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a unit of the National Institutes of Health. Ting-Kai Li, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Medicine Emeritus and former director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, currently heads the NIAAA. The center has produced a large amount of research on drinking behavior, its causes and the effects of heavy drinking.

IU researchers, joined by other experts from Methodist Research Institute and Hooks Discovery and Learning Center, also will lead workshops on genetics for students and groups visiting the museum. Other activities include a forensic foray. Crime Scene ISM will give participants an up-front look at how crime scene investigators probe homicides. John Pless, M.D., professor emeritus of pathology and laboratory medicine and former director of the IU Division of Forensic Pathology, was a major collaborator on the project.

Externally-funded research monies grow

The university has had rock-solid support to develop its life sciences research and discoveries. Last year, IU attracted $413 million in externally funded research grants, including $214 million to the School of Medicine at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. The university-wide total represents a three-fold increase since 1990.

Since 2001, IU has received $155 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment to establish the School of Medicine-based Indiana Genomics Initiative, which has greatly expanded biomedical research and will enable IU scientists to make revolutionary discoveries to cure diseases and improve human health.

Last month, the endowment awarded IU Bloomington $53 million to broaden and intensify its life sciences research, retain its distinguished scientists, attract new world-class scientists -- particularly in the neurosciences -- and contribute to the state's economic development by transferring technology to new and existing life science businesses. The grant establishes the Indiana Metabolomics and Cytomics Initiative, which will significantly complement life sciences research currently under way at Bloomington and the School of Medicine.

Life sciences and IU enhance state economy

As research grows in Indiana, so too do opportunities to cultivate the economy. For example, the IU Emerging Technologies Center functions as a business incubator and accelerator for life sciences, biotechnology and bioinformatics companies. The IUETC promotes partnerships between IU and the private sector to stimulate economic growth. The companies' business ventures must support health and life sciences technologies that will ultimately lead to economic gains and employment opportunities in Indiana.

Another way IU is helping develop the Hoosier economy is its role with the Indianapolis-based BioCrossroads, which seeks to promote new business opportunities, intellectual property and capital to the life sciences industry. IU leaders and scientists have partnered with corporate, government, economic development and other academic institutions to make Indiana a national and international life sciences center.

Former chairman of IU's Department of Medicine August Watanabe, M.D., now serves as chair of BioCrossroads board of directors. Also on the board are President Adam Herbert; D. Craig Brater, M.D., dean of the IU School of Medicine; and Daniel Evans, president and CEO of Clarian Health Partners.

A Web site is being created that will focus on life sciences research activities at IU.

"In labs, communities, hospitals and clinics throughout the state, life scientists at Indiana University are at work, searching for better ways to fight disease, protect the environment, develop new business and create a stronger economy for Indiana," Herbert said. "Advancing Indiana is the business of Indiana University."

Information about the museum exhibits "Genes and Your Health" and "Genome: The Secret of How Life Works" can be found at http://www.in.gov/ism/MuseumExhibits/SpecialExhibitsDetail.asp?ExhibitID=29.