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$3 million gift boosts life sciences programs at Lawrence Tech

Release Date: August 25, 2008

Southfield - An anonymous $3 million gift received this summer has provided a big boost to Dean Hsiao-Ping Moore's plans for expanding life sciences programming in the College of Arts and Sciences at Lawrence Technological University.

The added financial support will be used to upgrade existing life sciences facilities, and a $1 million endowment fund will provide annual income for endowed professorships, start-up funds for new faculty, research supplies and equipment replacement and repair. Part of the funds also will be set aside for building a new life sciences laboratory, and there are plans to establish an institute of molecular medicine.

The gift will help Lawrence Tech play a more prominent role in the development of life sciences in Michigan, according to Moore.

"This field is growing and evolving very rapidly, and now Lawrence Tech is well positioned to contribute both research and educational resources," Moore said. "Our students will benefit from the role Lawrence Tech is playing, and our graduates will become leaders in the field."

Moore's vision for life sciences at Lawrence Tech is based in large part on her work as a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was a professor of molecular and cell biology. She didn't leave her research behind when she came to Lawrence Tech in 2005 to become dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Instead, her passion for basic research in molecular and cell biology became the starting point for new academic programs in life sciences at a university traditionally known more for engineering and architecture. Her added administrative responsibilities may have cut down on her time in the lab, but her position has enabled her to expand Lawrence Tech's curriculum in new directions.

Last year Lawrence Tech introduced a new bachelor's degree program in molecular and cell biology. Science faculty members are also working with the College of Engineering on its new degree program in biomedical engineering - the fastest-growing undergraduate degree program at the university.

Under Moore's leadership, the university has added several faculty members in life sciences disciplines and upgraded laboratory facilities.

She believes the investment in this academic area will pay off with exciting career opportunities for Lawrence Tech graduates. With 77 million baby boomers nearing retirement age, there is a rapidly increasing demand for life-enhancing technologies and innovative medical products that molecular and cell biologists can help create.

"There is a biotechnology revolution under way, and molecular and cell biologists are at the forefront of today's advances in biology and medicine," Moore said.

Increased basic and applied research is a goal in Lawrence Tech's new strategic plan, and Moore is taking the initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"We want to involve undergraduates in research because I believe it can be the best learning tool for critical thinking and problem-solving," she said. "We can design research projects so that undergraduates can fit in. They can do a small part of a big project."

Moore also sees internship opportunities for students coming out of the university's growing relationship with Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Moore herself has continued research into the causes and possible cures for diabetes and other metabolic diseases that have been linked to obesity. Since close to a quarter of Americans are obese and close to half are overweight, this research could impact millions of lives.

Moore has continued to collaborate on research grants with Professor James Granneman of the Center for Integrative Metabolic and Endocrine Research at Wayne State University's School of Medicine. They are working together on four multi-year grants totaling $2.1 million from the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association and Veterans Administration Hospitals. Their research is centered on type II diabetes and its relationship to obesity.

When the body is functioning normally, eating food containing sugars triggers the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin that sends signals to cells to absorb the resulting glucose. A cell responds by moving glucose transporters to its membrane so that the new glucose can be absorbed. The glucose is then metabolized and stored for later use when the body needs energy.

With type II diabetes, the cells do not respond to the presence of insulin. This resistance to insulin's trigger mechanism means that glucose won't be absorbed by the body's cells. Instead the excess glucose remains in the blood stream, causing osmotic imbalances and multiple organ dysfunctions.  Deprivation of glucose inside the cell also leads to breakdown of cellular protein and fat, resulting in protein depletion and wasting.

Being overweight can lead to insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of type II diabetes.  Apparently the presence of a large number of fat droplets within cells can cause an interruption of insulin's normal trigger mechanism.  How fat droplets interfere with insulin's signaling mechanism is currently not known.   

Moore and Granneman are doing research to determine the precise relationship between fat droplets and insulin actions.  They focus their attention on identifying those proteins on the surface of fat droplets that that may be therapeutic targets for insulin resistance.  This is a daunting task because there are approximately 30,000 proteins in a cell, and researchers believe that as few as five residing on the surface of fat droplets may be directly involved in this process.

Moore and Granneman employ the researching power of a new field of study called proteomics, which is used to catalogue the proteins present in a cell.  A more advanced form of proteomics, called functional proteomics, can help identify what role the individual proteins perform.  With these tools, Moore and Granneman have narrowed down the search to a handful of candidate proteins. 

"If we can gain an understanding of the molecular basis for Type II diabetes, we can help create a drug to counteract insulin resistance," Moore said.

Lawrence Technological University, ltu.edu, offers over 80 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, with education centers in Lansing, Livonia, Clinton Township, Traverse City and Petoskey. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.