MU Team to Develop Research Pipeline for UM System
Professor of Radiology Jeff Smith and Chemistry Professor Silvia Jurisson chat outside the International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine (INMI), across the street from the MU Research Reactor (MURR). The INMI facility will provide critical infrastructure and collaborative expertise to researchers at all four University of Missouri campuses.
At the beginning of the school year, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi announced a series of investments in research and creative works that will help the system’s four universities achieve excellence through innovation. Many of those innovations will germinate and take root at the Institute of Nano and Molecular Innovations (INMI) building across the street from the MU Research Reactor (MURR) on the Mizzou campus.
Dave Robertson, a professor of chemistry at MU and the director of MURR, is leading a team to refurbish the INMI building. That facility will provide the critical infrastructure and collaborative expertise to researchers at all four campuses who have ideas that can attract national funding but may lack the personal expertise or laboratory facilities to fully develop a radiopharmaceutical product.
The UM System and MU (50/50 split) is providing approximately $2 million of the initial infrastructure funds for INMI through a Tier 1 grant. Robertson is joined in this effort by MURR Professor of Radiology Jeff Smith, Chemistry Professor Silvia Jurisson, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Jeffrey Bryan, and Professor of Biochemistry Tom Quinn.
MURR Professor of Radiology Jeff Smith and MU chemistry professors Dave Robertson and Silvia Jurisson pose in one of the laboratories at INMI.
“This funding will provide the ability for researchers, both experienced and new faculty, who have ideas about using radioactive materials to either image a disease or treat a disease to test those ideas,” Robertson says. “They have two options: they can outfit their own lab to work with radioactive materials, or they can come down and work with the core that Jeff Smith is going to lead, and he’ll have experienced technicians and the equipment to help them see if their ideas have merit.”
Creating a Technology Incubator
The University of Missouri has had difficulty attracting radiopharmaceutical companies to Columbia in the past due to a lack of infrastructure and regulatory hurdles. The solution is the creation of a technology incubator at INMI that provides pharmaceutical companies space next to the research reactor, which produces the radioisotopes used in compounds for imaging or treating disease.
A glimpse inside the MU Research Reactor.
“Anybody can come to this facility with an idea and gain access to the training necessary to work here and do the preliminary pre-clinical testing with mouse models,” Smith says. “Then we could go to Jeff Bryan at the vet school and do larger animal models. After that, we can work with the physicians at the NextGen Precision Health Institute that’s going in on campus to put together a campuswide initiative to solve complex medical problems toward diagnosing and treating human patients with cancer.”
The Pieces All Fit Together
Robertson and his colleagues say the University of Missouri is uniquely situated to become a leader in the emerging field of precision medicine because it has a research reactor, a School of Veterinary Medicine, and a School of Medicine all on one campus. The NextGen Precision Health Institute, scheduled to open in fall 2021, will become the central facility supporting a systemwide precision health initiative
“The University of Missouri is the only university in the country that has brought three FDA-approved radiopharmaceuticals to market,” Robertson says. “In fact, we’re the only place in the country that can make some of the isotopes people want to study.”
The MU Research Reactor (MURR) is located across the street from INMI. Dave Robertson, the director of MURR, is leading a team to refurbish the INMI building.
Jurisson says by creating a research pipeline for radiopharmaceuticals, the university will become more competitive for major funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and industry while elevating the university’s stature in the global research community.
“It will also benefit the undergrads who come to our institution and work in our labs, most of whom are Missouri natives,” she says.