The JHM Alliance for Science and Technology
Development, a group of high-level business executives that
School of Medicine faculty in commercializing their
inventions, has awarded $50,000 each to Ronald L. Schnaar,
pharmacology and molecular sciences and of
neuroscience, and Anirban Maitra, associate professor
The so-called Alliance awards support the development
of new technologies to speed their entrance to health care
and biotechnology markets.
"We are thrilled about this Alliance award," Schnaar
said. It will help us complete ongoing preclinical studies
and move our discovery toward clinical trials."
Schnaar and his team successfully coaxed damaged and
severed spinal cord nerves in rats to regrow after injury
by treating the nerve ends with a natural bacterial enzyme,
sialidase. Sialidase interferes with molecules in the
spinal cord that normally stop nerve fibers from growing.
There currently is no approved therapy to get nerves
to regrow after spinal cord injury. Spinal cord contusion,
or bruising, the most common form of spinal cord injury in
humans, generally occurs when dislodged backbones violently
impact the spinal cord and pinch the nerves inside.
Schnaar's team treated injured spinal cords in rats
after an experimental contusion that caused loss of hind
leg function. In a pilot study, they found that rats
treated with sialidase regained coordinated hind leg
movement, improved stepping and some weight bearing.
"A treatment like sialidase could potentially help the
100,000 people who suffer traumatic spinal cord injury
worldwide each year," he said.
Maitra, a member of Hopkins' Kimmel Cancer Center,
developed a drug delivery system that holds promise for
making cancer therapies easier to give to patients. "We
have many powerful cancer drugs currently in use and on the
horizon, but we can't give many of them to patients yet
because the drugs won't dissolve in liquids," Maitra
His way around that is to package them in
nanoparticles, far smaller than a cell, that encase the
toxic drugs in a shell of cross-linked molecules. By
attaching antibodies or other particles on the shell's
surface, researchers can direct the drug envelope to a
specific cancer cell "address." The technology, Maitra
said, can make cancer therapies more efficient and far less
toxic to normal cells.
Approximately 200 Johns Hopkins faculty members are
part of the Technology Opportunities Program that works
with the Alliance. Twice each year, some 20 faculty present
their inventions to members and receive immediate feedback.
The Alliance comprises 28 executives from a range of
disciplines, including the pharmaceutical, investment
banking and medical device industries.