A new wave of bio in Wisconsin

Last updated on May 10th, 2022 at 09:56 pm

Wisconsin has one of the fastest growing bioscience sectors in the Midwest. Research plays an important role in that growth.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) represents more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the globe. Some of these companies may be working on cell research and studies. Those who need liver endothelial cells for their research may visit sites https://lnhlifesciences.org/liver-endothelial-cells to order the biospecimen you require.

Using the most current data (2010), a recent BIO study indicated the state has created nearly 31,000 jobs in 1,366 businesses in the bioscience field. The average annual salary of an individual employed in the bioscience industry in the state of Wisconsin was $67,118 dollars in 2010, compared to an average private sector wage of $36,990.

In 2010, BioForward, Wisconsin’s bio-industry association and the state chapter of BIO, published a report, The Contribution of the BioScience Industry to the Wisconsin Economy, using the most recent data collected from 2008. It concluded that the total economic impact of the bioscience industry in Wisconsin was close to $7 billion.

“It’s compelling that we’re able to build this industry here and continue to do research,” said Bryan Renk, executive director of BioForward. “The state is finally starting to be recognized for our research and work in the field. We have some serious science going on here, and it’s nice to be recognized, not only nationally, but globally.”

Bioscience at work
UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lovell believes that his university can continue to contribute to the growing bioscience industry here in Wisconsin.

“I’m a true believer in generating knowledge and turning those great ideas into impactful developments for society,” Lovell said. “If research doesn’t get to that impact point, we’re missing out on something. In addition to the things we have going on surrounding research and water technologies, energy storage and entrepreneurship, we’re also exploring the food and beverage industry, and how our top-notch scientists and engineers can continue to advance the bioscience industry here in the state.”

One of those scientists is associate professor of biological sciences, Ching-Hong Yang. Yang, and his team of scientists, has developed a compound that could replace the use of antibiotics used to treat infections in a variety of different venues; including humans and plants.

Rather than attacking and killing the infectious bacteria like traditional antibiotics, which provide opportunity for the bacteria to mutate and develop resistant versions, Yang’s compound effectively ‘disarms’ the pathogenic bacteria so it can no longer cause disease.

Two companies, one in the U.S. and one in Sweden, are testing the compound with goals of commercializing the product.

Yang’s research emerged after both his father and his father-in-law acquired infections during a hospital stay that were resistant to traditional antibiotics, he said.

“It’s a very serious issue in today’s society,” Yang said. “The true issue is that there is a critical need for this type of compound in the medical field.”

Yang and his team have tested the compound on two bacteria that affect plants and one that affects humans, he said.

“It’s been effective in all three instances,” Yang said. “We’re still in the testing phases, but so far the results we’ve found have been promising.”

Aaron Monte, professor and chair of the UW-LaCrosse department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is making his own drug discoveries in his laboratory.

Monte founded Mycophyte Discovery in 2005. The Mycophyte team studies plant and mushroom species to discover and develop new drug molecules and medicines that may be used to treat diseases like MRSA, anthrax, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and other high-priority anti-infections, Monte said.

“It’s a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary team that emerged way back in 1998 when we were working with Native American students on campus,” Monte said. “Part of that project instructed those students to bring several of their native and traditional herbal remedies their tribes would use for treating illness. Our goal was to screen those plant species for new drug molecules.”

Since then, the team has screened several hundred species of mushrooms and plants and has filed four U.S. patents through WiSys Technology Foundation, an division of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation created to assist other University Wisconsin campuses with technology transfer.

The first compound, discovered in collaboration with Ojibwe Native American student Leah Defoe and Professor Jim Cook from UW-Milwaukee, is a sweet fern drug that could treat TB, and anthrax. The second is a mushroom compound that could treat rod infections in cystic fibrosis. The third and fourth patents, filed in 2010, are anti-MRSA compounds and anti-TB agents, Monte said.

“On the most practical research level these discoveries could lead us to life-saving medicines,” Monte said. “But there is also a great educational benefit and even a professional development aspect for our students and faculty. They are really putting to work skills they will need in the real world. That has a huge impact economically on the state.”

Another state university making progress using primarily undergraduate researchers is UW-River Falls. Tim Lyden is a biology professor and director of the Tissue and Cellular Innovation Center (TCIC).

Lyden and his students at the TCIC have discovered a process that uses 3D cell cultures to model tissue formation. According to Lyden, the process could lead to more specialized and personal care for individuals diagnosed with cancer.

“We’re working closely in conjunction with the Marshfield Clinic, The Rivers Cancer Center in River Falls and other industry leaders to look at a variety of different human patient tumor samples,” Lyden said. “The goal of that research is to produce an artificial lab model based on the patient’s own tumor.”

Tissue regeneration could potentially be used to characterize the treatments that would be most effective on that individual tumor, potentially saving time and health care costs in the patient’s care.

“One of the problems that occurs in medicine is that tumors react differently from patient to patient,” Lyden said. “This type of research, among other things, could suggest new forms of treatment.”

Lyden and his students have been recognized globally for their research, which Lyden admits is still in its data phase. Still, he does have plans to start a spinoff startup company that would initially focus on personalized medicine techniques.

Personalized medicine – the future of health care
Dr. Ulrich Broeckel, associate director of the Children’s Research Institute and professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has made some important discoveries involving stem cells.

“The overarching theme of my research for the past 15 years has been trying to understand how genes play a role in common cardiovascular disease,” Broeckel said.

In order to conduct his research, Broeckel has turned to innovative stem cell science developed by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka in 2007 in partnership with James Thomson, the father of stem cell research from UW-Madison. The new science circumnavigates the controversy of embryonic stem cell research by using a method that converts human skin cells in to cells that very closely resemble stem cells.

“Stem cells have the capability to become any cell type we want them to be,” Broeckel said. “We can change the conditions and drive those stem cells to become neural cells, liver cells and even heart cells.”

According to Broeckel, the cells they create function and beat like actual heart cells, and have all the genes and genetic variations of that individual.

“These new heart cells can be studied for the genetic defect the patient may have so we can really tell what’s going on with that individual patient.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin has teamed up with Madison-based Cellular Dynamics International to generate 250 pluripotent stem cell samples from individuals with high risk of cardiovascular disease.  Over the next five years, grant funds totaling $6,255,632 will be used to study the genetic mechanisms underlying heart disease, Broeckel said.

“While it’s still very much in its infancy, this type of research has the potential to offer better options for care to patients and even pharmaceutical companies, who could use the cells as a screening process for better forms of treatment for individuals with all kinds of diagnoses, not just cardiovascular,” Broeckel said.

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