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Biomedical research focusing on development of gene tools

Nov. 13, 2009 @ 06:46 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Dr. Eric Kmiec said the chances of discovering some new wonder drug are slim. That's why the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research is focusing on the development of medical tools that will greatly enhance the use of the medicine and care already available.

"We're building the best tools to study genes," he said. "The tools that will help us discover diseased genes."

Kmiec is the director and lead scientist for MIIR, one of two Marshall University recipients of money through West Virginia's Bucks for Jobs program. MIIR and the Rahall Transportation Institute receive interest earned off of endowments set up by the money raised by the Marshall University Research Corporation and matched by the state.

"It's two really high-impact areas that Marshall is trying to focus on," said John Maher, vice president for research.

Maher said they can fund startup facilities and provide seed money for scientists, who often come with their own research grants. MIIR's first two scholars, Kmiec and Dr. Joan Wilson, came with about $2 million in federal research money, he said.

Wilson is a senior scientist with MIIR and brings expertise in gene regulation and noncoding RNA. Kmiec works with gene editing. He's also responsible for luring other biomedical researchers to Huntington. Currently, he and Wilson are actively recruiting a third senior scientist, using the endowment as the main source.

The long-term goal is to become sustainable through research grants given to the scientists, while the endowment helps grow the pool of experts. Sustainability also comes through federal dollars and corporate support.

The next step, he said, is finding more space.

"I can tell you space is limited," he said, adding that there are three research technicians and three research associates between he and Wilson. "Right now, we're searching for four more."

The hope is to spur intellectual property and patents that could move biotechnical startup companies into the new incubators at the old Fairfield Stadium location. Those could become available by the end of the year.

Maher said the transportation institute's research tied to Bucks for Jobs has to do with improving transportation and logistics locally and around the state. Huntington is the largest inland port in the United States with the Ohio River. And because West Virginia is a coal state, transportation by road, rail and river is vital.

Kmiec and Maher said the results of the Bucks for Jobs legislation could bring profound changes to Huntington during the next decade. Maher said successful growth could turn Marshall University into both an academic- and research-based institution.

"A much larger research enterprise and a much more nationally prominent institution," he said.

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