As part of an international collaboration that includes MRI and Stanford University, MRI’s Dr. John Mercer and Colleen Silan Mercer are now in Bangalore (“the Silicon Valley of India”) at the new Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. inStem, as it’s also known, is part of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS).
For several years, the couple will be helping to establish both a mouse genetics facility at inStem and a lab that will study inherited diseases of the heart muscle called cardiomyopathies. Cardiomyopathies are an area of focus in Dr. James Spudich’s lab at Stanford, where Dr. Mercer worked during a recent sabbatical.
Dr. Spudich (a former member of McLaughlin’s Scientific Advisory Committee) has been a key player in the development of the inStem project at the NCBS, the leading biological research institute in India with which he has had a longstanding affiliation. “inStem is using a large spectrum of approaches” to both basic research and its clinical application, he said. An advanced technology center on campus provides technological capabilities that dramatically speed up as well as broaden the scope of the research.
“At a time of austerity in U.S. research funding, the Indian government is dramatically increasing research funding,” inStem director Dr. K. VijayRaghavan said. “They view it as economic and technological investment, not as an expense.”
Dr. Mercer will be introducing technologies to inStem developed by Dr. Spudich’s lab at Stanford for studying mutations in the molecular motors that drive the human heartbeat. These mutated motors are associated with deterioration of the heart muscle that can cause sudden death at any age, and the inherited mutations occur in one of every 500 people. “Cardiomyopathies are a huge public health problem,” he said. “A vast number of different mutations are involved, so it will take time, but the long-term goal is to develop therapies.”
“John was part of the team that made a couple of breakthroughs in my lab that enabled us to move the research into the translational or clinical realm,” Dr. Spudich said.“His extensive knowledge base of myosin motors and his enthusiasm for this application of it made him a natural partner in the project. His being in Bangalore full time makes it possible for us to carry out our work in our lab at Stanford as well as our lab in India.”
As New Lab Complex Scientific Coordinator & Mouse Management Liaison, Colleen Silan is managing many aspects of the project. Additional personnel from MRI and Stanford may visit Bangalore to assist the team there, and Indian graduate students and postdoctoral fellows could visit McLaughlin for further training in mouse genetics.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin will be making mouse models for cardiomyopathy research at both inStem and Stanford. “This work depends on good mouse models, and the really exciting opportunity to connect up with all of McLaughlin’s expertise in their fine mouse facility is a very, very important element of this,” Dr. Spudich said.
According to MRI Director George Carlson, “We are very pleased to be associated with this exciting project. In the context of the increasing globalization of science, the interactions with NCBS and Stanford offer our scientists in Montana the chance to be at the leading edge in international collaboration.”