The Jackson Laboratory partners with UConn to receive $3.2 million federal grant

Posted Aug. 14, 2013, at 3:07 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory has received a $3.2 million federal grant to research how healthy bones develop and what goes wrong when osteoporosis and other bone disorders hit.

The research project is a joint effort between The Jackson Laboratory and scientists at the University of Connecticut. The new $3.2 million, five-year grant comes from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The project is one of the first major collaborations between The Jackson Laboratory and UConn. The Jackson Laboratory in September 2011 announced plans to build a new, $1.1 billion lab at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, Conn.

That lab — The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine — is still under construction, but The Jackson Laboratory already has about 50 employees in Connecticut working in temporary space on the UConn Health Center campus, according to Joyce Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Bar Harbor-based laboratory. The lab is expected to open in the fall of 2014.

The new research project will contribute to an international effort to “knock out,” or delete, each gene in the mouse genome in order to systematically examine the function of that gene on the animal’s development and health, according to a news release. However, the Knockout Mouse Project, as it’s known, has not to this point included a comprehensive examination of the skeleton.

The research team will be led by Cheryl Ackert-Bicknell, Ph.D., a Jackson Laboratory bone genetics expert; David Rowe, M.D., professor of reconstructive sciences at the UConn Health Center School of Dentistry; and Dong-Guk Shin, Ph.D., professor of computer science at UConn’s bioinformatics division. Other employees of The Jackson Laboratory and UConn will be collaborators.

“Your skeleton changes constantly: every day your bones break down and build back up,” Ackert-Bicknell said in a statement. “What we’re trying to do in our study is to capture the ‘how and why’ this process becomes imbalanced, resulting in osteoporosis.”

Osteoporosis affects half of all Americans older than 50, regardless of gender, according to Ackert-Bicknell. She said family history, or genetics, is the best predictor of who’s going to develop osteoporosis.

The Jackson Laboratory also has a facility in Sacramento, Calif. It employs roughly 1,500 at its three locations.

“For the record, the Bar Harbor campus is also growing,” Peterson wrote in an email. “As of today there are 21 open positions, not including those for research faculty, posted on the careers page of our website.”

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