State, Huntington Bank Set Flint Business Microlending Plan

LANSING — The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Huntington Bank have established a program called the “Pure Michigan Micro Lending Initiative” for small buisnesses in Flint seeking $1,000 to $250,000 that might not be able to obtain traditional bank financing.

The initiative has a $2 million lending commitment, and marks an expansion of the program that began in the fall of 2013 to serve small businesses in Detroit and has since expanded to serve 17 counties.

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LTU lecturer: Stem cells offer hope for ALS patients

Stem cell treatments now in clinical trials offer the prospect of a treatment for one of humanity’s most dread neurological diseases, a Lawrence Technological University audience learned Tuesday night.

Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., a pioneering researcher into using stem cells to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, detailed her work at LTU’s 20th annual Walker L. Cisler Memorial Lecture. The lecture drew a near-capacity audience to LTU’s Mary E. Marburger Science and Engineering Auditorium.

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Feldman said ALS kills by destroying the body’s large motor neurons, so large muscles are no longer connected to the body’s nerves, and so they atrophy. Patients gradually lose motor skills and the ability to walk, and die when the muscles involved in breathing become disconnected. The average time from diagnosis to death is three years.

Earlier, treatment approaches focused on the method by which ALS might kill those neurons – but, Feldman said, since those processes are still poorly understood, she’s focused her research on repairing the damaged neurons. Stem cells, she said, hold the key – because these cells can form new neurons and strengthen existing damaged ones.

Feldman began her research with embryonic stem cells, those found in human blastocysts and five days’ gestation. The blastocysts are those used in fertility treatments that will be disposed of anyway, she said. Those blastocysts contain a few hundred undifferentiated stem cells that have the potential to form any cell in the body. Those cells were grown in the lab and injected into test rats with ALS. Some rats did very well in the experiments, but others did very poorly – because some of the undifferentiated stem cells grew into tumors. And in one unfortunate rat’s spinal cord, a tooth formed.

So, embryonic stem cells were out. Feldman’s team then turned to neural progenitor cells, a more mature form of stem cell found in 2- to 3-week-old embryos that grow only into nerve cells.

“We put those cells into rat spines, and what we saw was quite remarkable,” Feldman said. “Rat motor function and survival were improved.”

Next up was a study on large mammals – in this case, 130 pigs with ALS. They also showed a sharp improvement in ALS symptoms.

Feldman got approval for human clinical trials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009. Phase 1 of the trial, involving 15 patients, lasted from January 2010 to May 2013. Phase 2, also involving 15 patients, ran from October 2013 to July 2014.

Once again, the results were promising, with most of the patients either improving in function or at least stabilizing. One exception was for patients with a form of the disease called bulbar ALS that involves the brain – they didn’t fare well and will not be given the treatment in the future, Feldman said.

A phase 3 clinical trial is now being designed, she said.

In Phase 1 trials, researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects. In Phase 2 trials, the drug or treatment is given to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety. And in Phase 3, the drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely.

One thing’s for sure, the treatment is complex and will be expensive. It involves multiple major surgeries to inject the stem cells into the patient’s spinal column.

Feldman also pointed out that stem cells are being tested as treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injury, with varying degrees of promise. “Keep your fingers crossed,” she told the audience.

Feldman and LTU dedicated the 2016 Cisler lecture to Feldman’s benefactor, shopping center magnate A. Alfred Taubman, who attended LTU before beginning his storied career, and who returned to LTU after his retirement to teach a business course. Feldman joked that after his experience at LTU, Taubman told her, “call me Professor.”

LTU president Virinder Moudgil noted that Taubman gave away more than $250 million of his fortune to charity – including numerous medical buildings at UM and several major campus buildings at LTU. (Pictured above are Moudgil, Feldman, LTU dean Maria Vaz, and Hsiao-Ping Moore, dean of the LTU College of Arts and Sciences.)

The lecture is named after Walker L. Cisler through a grant from the Holley Foundation, where Cisler served on the board for many years. Cisler, 1897-1994, was a prominent American engineer, business executive, and founding member of the National Academy of Engineering. After serving as chief of public utilities for the U.S. Armed Forces after World War II, supervising rebuilding power plants in Europe, Cisler served Detroit Edison in a variety of positions, including chief engineer, executive vice president, president, CEO, and board chairman, from 1954 to 1971.

At UM, Feldman is Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology, Director of the ALS Clinic, Director of the JDRF Center for the Study of Complications in Diabetes, Director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery, and Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute. Feldman completed both her medical degree and PhD in neuroscience at UM. She completed a residency in neurology at Johns Hopkins University, and a neuromuscular fellowship at UM.

In addition to running an active clinical practice at UM, Feldman directs a team of 30 scientists who collaborate to understand and find new treatments for a wide variety of neurological diseases, including ALS, diabetic neuropathy, Alzheimer’s disease, and muscular dystrophies. She is the author of more than 220 articles, 50 book chapters, and two books. She is the Principal Investigator of four major National Institutes of Health research grants, three private foundation grants, and five clinical trials focused on understanding and treating neurological disorders, with an emphasis on ALS and diabetic neuropathy.

UM Researchers: Lake Erie Pollution Targets ‘Challenging’ But Achievable

ANN ARBOR — Large-scale changes to agricultural practices will be required to meet the goal of reducing levels of algae-promoting phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent, a new University of Michigan-led, multi-institution computer modeling study concludes.

Last month, the United States and Canadian governments called for a 40 percent reduction, from 2008 levels, in phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources into Lake Erie. The nutrient feeds an oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the lake and toxin-producing algae blooms, including a 2014 event that contaminated the drinking water of more than 400,000 people near Toledo for two days.

The main driver of the harmful blooms is elevated phosphorus from watersheds draining to Lake Erie’s western basin, particularly from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. About 85 percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Maumee River comes from farm fertilizers and manure.

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State Approves Aid To Business Expansions

LANSING — Funding to assist with projects including the American Center for Mobility – a project to redevelop the old Willow Run industrial site into a center for autonomous and connected vehicles — has been approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

MSF today approved a $2,999,900 performance-based grant and $100 equity investment in funds transferred from the Michigan Business Development Program to the Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings Limited Partnership.

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Internship Search Leads To Michigan Tech Startup

HOUGHTON — Eighteen months ago, Garrett Lord was studying computer science at Michigan Technological University and trying to find an internship in Silicon Valley. He wasn’t having much luck. Silicon Valley companies didn’t tend to look for interns at a small, engineering-centric school on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yet he knew that students at big-name schools nationwide had no trouble finding those opportunities.

What could level the playing field? The answer was a Handshake away.

Lord and fellow Michigan Tech students Scott Ringwelski and Ben Christensen designed a new college-career network called Handshake, a software program that makes it easy for students to find and apply for internships and jobs, enables employers of all sizes to locate the talent they’re looking for and helps college career centers do their job.

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RetroSense Doses First Patient In Test Of Blindness Drug

ANN ARBOR —  The pharmaceutical startup RetroSense Therapeutics LLC Monday announced the first patient in a Phase I/IIa clinical trial of its lead drug candidate, RST-001.

The drug is designed to restore some vision to patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that leads to the progressive degeneration of photoreceptors in the back of the eye informally called rods and cones, resulting in severe vision loss and blindness.

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California Firm Bids To Buy Plymouth Laser Maker

PLYMOUTH — The industrial laser maker Rofin-Sinar Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTI), which has spent the past few months locked in a proxy battle with a London-based investment firm, has turned to a California competitior for a buyout.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Coherent Inc. (Nasdaq: COHR) has bid $32.50 a share, or $942 million, for RSTI, a 42 percent premium to Rofin’s Wednesday close.

The companies said the deal is expected to close in six to nine months, provided shareholders and regulators approve. Coherent said it plans to finance the buyout with existing cash and committed debt from Barclays.

There was no immediate word on the future of Rofin-Sinar’s headquarters work force in Plymouth.

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The Legacy Of Mercury In Lake Superior

HOUGHTON — The northern Great Lakes are praised for being clean, but these aquatic systems don’t exist in a vacuum. Contaminants still find their way into lake water and sediments. Mercury is of particular interest because of its toxicity and persistence.

In a new study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research in February, an interdisciplinary team from Michigan Technological University examined the legacy of mercury in Lake Superior.

Currently, the National Atmospheric Deposition Program reports low levels of mercury deposition across most of the upper Midwest. However, those figures don’t account for past mercury deposition and what that might mean for heavy metal contamination. In fact, when mining was booming around the lake in Michigan, Minnesota and Canada in the 1800s and early 1900s, the researchers found mercury input was higher than expected.

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Willow Run Vehicle Tech Center Names Board, CEO

ANN ARBOR — A nonprofit organization and a board of directors have been formed to handle operations for the new American Center for Mobility.

The center, located in Ypsilanti Township, is intended to help accelerate the development of autonomous and connected vehicles, as well as lead to economic development in Michigan.

The board of directors approved the appointment of John M. Maddox as CEO, effective immediately. Maddox has been serving as assistant director of the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. MTC operates Mcity, a connected and automated vehicle test center on UM’s North Campus. Maddox will retain a partial appointment with MTC.

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