James Eberwine, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, and Ivan J. Dmochowski, PhD, associate professor of Chemistry, at the University of Pennsylvania, received a 2012 McKnight Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. The awards support four research projects to develop and apply innovative technologies for studying the brain and its diseases. Eberwine, from the Perelman School of Medicine, and Dmochowski, from the School of Arts and Sciences, are both members of the Penn Genome Frontiers Institute.
Eberwine and Dmochowski’s project is entitled, “TIVA-tag Enables True Neuronal Systems Genomics.” While it has been possible for several years to study gene expression in individual cells in laboratory cultures, continuing progress in neurobiology requires the ability to examine genetic function and regulation at the systems level, in intact tissues or living organisms. Drs. Eberwine and Dmochowski are collaborating on a method to isolate RNA from live cells through an approach they have pioneered, called TIVA-tag (for Transcriptome In Vivo Analysis). They plan to tailor the chemistry of TIVA-tag compounds to collect RNA from cells with greater specificity, efficiency and less tissue damage than previously possible. By the end of the grant period they intend to have established the TIVA-tag approach as a viable methodology for systems-level genomics. The development of the TIVA=tag approach required, and is an exciting example of how interdisciplinary teams can work together to solve important scientific questions.
“The need for systems-level single cell genomics is manifest, especially in analysis of human disease where quantifying genomics processes in single cells in their natural cellular context will provide a road-map to understanding cellular physiology,” says Eberwine. “Towards this end, we are developing TIVA-tag in the neuronal system for use in understanding normal neuronal functioning as well as dysfunction in neurological disease.”
“The TIVA-tag should will allow more precise quantitation of gene expression profiles and genetic variability associated with normal biology as well as disease state,” says Dmochowski . “With the McKnight Award, we look forward to optimizing the TIVA approach for elucidating molecular aspects of brain organization and function.”
“Neuroscience is investigating better methods of monitoring and stimulating the working brain-while it is seeing, learning, acting and creating memories,” said David Tank, PhD, chair of the awards committee, and the Henry Hillman professor in molecular biology and physics, and co-director of the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University. “With better tools will come a greater understanding of how the brain functions and what goes wrong when the brain gets sick. We are pleased to support these innovative projects that, if successful, will expand the range of technologies available to the neuroscience research community.”
The Endowment Fund is especially interested in advances in the ability to monitor, manipulate, analyze or model brain function. The awards do not support research based primarily on existing techniques. Technologies developed with McKnight support must ultimately be made available to other scientists.
This year’s recipients were selected from 65 letters of inquiry.