2016: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants Program

In October 2008, the Michelson Found Animals Foundation announced the creation of the Michelson Prize & Grants program, whose mission is to rapidly develop the world’s first permanent, nonsurgical spay/neuter method for cats and dogs. As we embark on a new year in our quest to create a noninvasive sterilization product for companion animals, we wanted to take a look back at the important achievements made by our grantees over the past year.

2016 marked the eighth year of the Michelson Prize & Grants program. As of the end of the year, researchers have submitted a total of 358 letters of intent and 133 grant proposals for funding consideration. To date, the MPG program has committed over $15 million to 37 approved projects in 7 different countries.

2016 was yet another big year for the MPG program. For starters, it marked the beginning of a truly innovative Michelson Grant-funded project led by Principal Investigator Dr. David Baker at the University of Washington. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog that will give an in-depth overview of this exciting new project. 8 multi-year Michelson Grant projects were completed in 2016, 2 of which have resulted in continuation projects that are already underway. We are eager to see how these new projects unfold!

4 scientific papers written by Michelson Grantees were published in the esteemed journals Reproduction in Domestic Animals, Biology of Reproduction, Theriogenology, and Biomaterials, and 6 grantees presented their work at the prestigious International Symposium on Canine and Feline Reproduction in Paris, France in June. We are so grateful to work with such an engaged and active research community that is excited to share these important findings with their peers.

Finally, January 2016 marked the retirement of our beloved Dr. Shirley Johnston, the first Director of Scientific Research at the Found Animals Foundation. In addition to reviewing nearly every letter of intent and grant proposal that had been submitted to the MPG program up until her retirement, Shirley was pivotal in the formation of the Michelson Prize & Grants program’s scientific advisory board, the oversight of 30+ Michelson Grant-funded projects, and the development of the Michelson Prize criteria. Shirley is absolutely thrilled to have entered her retirement so she can spend more time traveling and visiting her children and their families in Oregon and South Korea. We are forever indebted to Shirley for making the Michelson Prize & Grants program what it is today, and we are so happy that she is enjoying this new phase of her life.

We are also indebted to Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson for their generosity in funding the Michelson Prize & Grants program, and we are grateful for your continued support of our mission. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2017!

2015: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants

2015 proved to be another exciting and productive year for the Michelson Prize & Grants program! As of December, we have received an astounding 345 letters of intent and 127 grant proposals since our program’s creation in October 2008. To date, we have approved 35 proposals for funding and have committed nearly $15 million to those projects.

Michelson Grant Projects

2015 marked the beginning of three new Michelson Grant-funded projects:

The following multi-year Michelson Grant projects were completed in 2015:

  • Inducing stable infertility by RNA interference; PI Beverly L. Davidson, PhD at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Ablation of hypothalamic GnRH neurons using targeted, cytotoxic exosomes: proof of concept study in mice; PI Colin E. Bishop, PhD at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
  • Development of targeted nanoparticles as non-surgical sterilizing agents: proof of concept study in mice, PI George L. Gerton, PhD at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

This year our grantees’ research findings were published in such esteemed journals as Andrology, the Journal of Biotechnology, Molecular Reproduction and Development, and Theriogenology, and several grantees presented their work at conferences and universities in Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom. For a full report on all Michelson Grant research findings to date, check out our recent blog here or view our full Research Findings listing here.

Scientific Advisory Board Meetings

The Michelson Prize & Grants program held three Scientific Advisory Board meetings, at which the board voted to approve two new projects for funding. The details of these grants will be posted on our website in the new year.

In October we had the honor of holding a board meeting at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida. A former rice and tree plantation, White Oak is now one of the world’s premiere wildlife breeding, education, and training facilities. It was acquired by the Gilman family in 1938 and, in 1982, philanthropist Howard Gilman started a conservation program on the property for the purpose of housing and breeding vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species. Today, the 12,000-acre property in northeastern Florida houses over 30 species as part of their conservation breeding programs. During our visit the board was treated to a 3-hour tour and met a 6-week-old White Rhino, a pair of hand-raised cheetah sisters, and a double-wattled cassowary, to name just a few of the amazing animals on the property.

Conferences & Networking

MPG staff were also quite busy in 2015 with a robust conference schedule. This year the MPG program sponsored exhibit booths at annual meetings of the Endocrine Society, Experimental Biology, Society for Biomaterials, Society for Theriogenology, and Society of Toxicology. Conference exhibit sponsorships are an important part of our outreach strategy, as they give us the opportunity to meet face to face with top researchers in relevant fields who are capable of contributing to our mission of creating the first nonsurgical sterilant for dogs and cats. The relationships forged in these environments not only lead to new grant projects, but they have also helped us to expand and strengthen the membership of our Scientific Advisory Board.

We are indebted to Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson for their generosity in funding the Michelson Prize & Grants program in its entirety as well as for their vision of a world in which the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable cats and dogs is far behind us.

From all of us at the MPG program and the Found Animals Foundation, we hope that you have a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!

Michelson Grants Research Findings To Date: A Look Back on Seven Years of Grant Funding

It’s hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly, but this October marked the 7th anniversary of the Michelson Prize & Grants program! As we celebrate this milestone, we’d like to share with our readers the important progress that has been made since then in the field of nonsurgical sterilization. Through the tireless efforts of our grantees and their research teams, the dedication of our diverse and talented Scientific Advisory Board, and the generosity of our funder, Dr. Gary Michelson, we have made significant steps toward the development of a noninvasive spay/neuter method for companion animals and we hope that you will share our enthusiasm after reading this update.

A major goal of the Found Animals Foundation is to develop a single-dose, permanent (10-20 year), nonsurgical sterilant that renders male and female dogs and cats infertile. Our desired product must induce sterility as well as suppress reproductive hormones and behavior (such as estrus, matings) in treated animals. If made available to the ~3500 shelters in the U.S.A., such a sterilant could guarantee that every animal adopted would be incapable of reproducing, thereby eliminating the birth of unwanted litters that ultimately end up back in the shelter system. Nationally and internationally, such a product could also be administered by paraprofessionals to feral and free-roaming dog and cat colonies. We envision that this nonsurgical sterilant will be a total game-changer for the care and management of shelter, feral, and free-roaming dogs and cats all over the world and could eventually eliminate the euthanasia of shelter animals altogether.

Thirty-five Michelson Grants in Reproductive Biology, totaling about $15 million in committed research funds, have been awarded to scientists around the world since 2009 to perform research leading to the development of this sterilant. Grants have been awarded to scientists in the U.S.A., Canada, Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Scotland.

To date, scientists performing this research have targeted one of three sites in the body that are essential for reproduction. These are:

  • the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that contains cells which initiate reproduction by secreting the hormones kisspeptin and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH);
  • the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ at the base of the brain that responds to secretion of GnRH by secreting luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH); and
  • the reproductive organs in the abdomen (ovaries) or scrotum (testes) that respond to LH and FSH by producing eggs, sperm, and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone that cause reproductive behaviors.

Scientists have endeavored to block normal reproductive function at these sites using one or more of the approaches described below. Some of their findings are bulleted under each approach.

Gene Silencing

Genes in all body cells encode for, or express, proteins/peptides that are active building blocks or enzymes. In the gene silencing approach, scientists inject an inactive virus (either a lentivirus or adeno-associated virus) intravenously that has a nucleic acid fragment inserted that is an exact mirror image of the gene that they want to silence. The mirror image (interference RNA) attaches to this gene and prevents its ability to express its protein. One of the first Michelson Grants awarded was to silence genes in cells of the hypothalamus that express kisspeptin and neurokinin B (NKB). These proteins/peptides normally induce GnRH secretion.

  • A gene silencing construct to silence kisspeptin and NKB genes in the hypothalamus disrupted female rat estrous cycles but did not completely ablate fertility; studies are now underway to enhance specific delivery of this construct to the hypothalamus in high concentrations.
  • Genes that express dog and cat kisspeptin and NKB in the hypothalamus were cloned and respective genomic structures were determined. It was discovered that the dog kiss1 gene is the most divergent of all mammalian species known.
  • Genes expressing kisspeptin and the kisspeptin receptor in the hypothalamus were cloned in the dog. Investigators demonstrated that estrous cycle stage influences kisspeptin signaling in dogs.
  • Silencing of the genes that express androgen receptor proteins in the testes induced long-term spermatogenic arrest and sterility in male mice.
  • Dog testes (seminiferous tubules) were shown to express functional piRNA binding proteins called “PIWI proteins” that are essential to spermatogenesis; in normal reproduction, these are critical mediators of egg and sperm maturation. They could be a good target to silence in efforts to induce sterility.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy also uses a lentivirus or adeno-associated virus, but the nucleic acid fragment inserted is a functional gene that expresses a protein. This approach is used to treat a variety of human diseases and has been able to express a blood clotting factor for more than 10 years in dogs with hemophilia. The Foundation has approved studies to use gene therapy to express antibodies to GnRH, to express gonadotropin inhibiting hormone (GnIH), and to express Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS).

  • Gene therapy delivering antibodies to GnRH causes sterility in rodents by blocking hypothalamic GnRH.
  • Human GnIH inhibits secretion of reproductive steroid hormones in cat ovarian tissue.

Immunocontraception

Immunocontraception describes induction of antibodies to essential reproductive hormones so that the antibodies bind to and block these essential reproductive elements. The mechanism is similar to that of inducing antibodies by injecting inactivated bacteria or viruses that cause disease, except that immunocontraception relies on creating antibodies to “self” antigens. Dogs and cats have been immunized against GnRH for decades and shown to be infertile for 1 to 3 years after a single administration. Work funded by our program is in progress to provide slow or repeated release of vaccines against GnRH in the hypothalamus, the GnRH receptor in the pituitary, or other reproductive proteins.

  • Administration of a GnRH vaccine on a subcutaneous three-dimensional adjuvant matrix that mimics the body’s response to infection resulted in recruitment and activation of (antigen presenting) dendritic cells and long-term persistence of antibodies to GnRH secreted by the hypothalamus.
  • A study is in progress in mice to release GnRH vaccine from a slow-release subcutaneous implant “smart” device that releases the antigen when circulating antibodies to GnRH fall.

Targeted Delivery of Cytotoxins

Some scientists are trying to destroy cells in one of the three sites that are essential to reproduction by delivering toxins exclusively to the target cell, and not to other body tissues. This methodology also is used to destroy cancer cells in patients receiving chemotherapy.

  • Investigators discovered that the gene sequence expressing the kisspeptin receptor protein (reported in public databases) in rat hypothalamic cells was incorrect and nonfunctional. The correct sequence was determined and confirmed, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information corrected the database based on that funded research.
  • In a study of attempted toxin ablation of pituitary cells secreting LH and FSH, our investigators have found that gonadotropes are resistant to toxin ablation. Others have demonstrated that toxin degradation within structures called “endosomes” may be limiting efficacy. In fact, it has been estimated that only about 1 in 10,000 internalized toxin (ribosome inactivating proteins) escape endosomal destruction. A research team of Michelson Grant awardees is now adding “endosome escape” substances to the toxin ablation constructs to enhance efficacy.
  • Administration of a GnRH agonist implant (deslorelin) to kittens within 24 hours of birth blocked receptors on pituitary cells from access to native GnRH. This resulted in delayed onset of puberty, to 42-91 weeks of age, compared to normal onset of puberty at 15.5 +/- 1.7 weeks in control kittens. Investigators hypothesize that neonatal use of a higher dose of deslorelin might prevent puberty altogether. A similar study in dogs is ongoing.
  • Scientists discovered that Sertoli cells in the testes require a different mechanism of inducing cell death than do the primordial germ cells that produce sperm because of different phagocytic/endocytic functions.
  • Administration of (toxic) reactive oxygen species linked to FSH that target the ovaries and testes caused germ cell death in mice.

Our grantees’ work is frequently published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at international conferences. If you would like to learn more about any of our funded projects, be sure to check out the full Michelson Grants Research Findings listing on our website!

In Pursuit of a Nonsurgical Sterilant: New Michelson Grant Project Underway at the University of Arizona

We are thrilled to announce that a new Michelson Grant-funded project pursuing a nonsurgical sterilant is underway! The study, led by Dr. Benjamin Renquist of the University of Arizona, is titled, “Enhancing the toxicity of GnRH- and bivalent-targeted RIP conjugates to induce sterility.” This is a continuation of another Michelson Grant-funded project that Dr. Renquist began in 2012 titled, “Increasing the circulating half-life of GnRH-RIP conjugates to improve in vivo efficacy.”

In their newly funded study, the Renquist team will continue their investigation of how to safely destroy gonadotropes. To put this project into context, it’s important to have an understanding of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, which controls development, reproduction, and aging in all animals. At the very top of this reproductive cascade is a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which secretes the peptide gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Once it is secreted, GnRH travels to the anterior pituitary at the base of the brain, where it then binds to receptors on cells called gonadotropes. This binding stimulates the gonadotropes to release gonadotropins, which are hormones that travel in the blood stream to the gonads (testes in males, ovaries in females) that trigger the production of testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone release helps trigger spermatogenesis (sperm production) in males, and estrogen is released by growing follicles in females. These two processes, together known as gametogenesis, enable animals to sexually reproduce. When testosterone and estrogen levels in the blood become sufficiently low, the hypothalamus will be triggered to secrete more GnRH, and the whole process will start all over again.

If you visit our Research Findings page, you will see that nearly all of our funded projects involve targeting some part of the HPG axis, and you can see why this makes sense – if one can permanently stop any of the processes that are a part of this cycle, whether in the hypothalamus, the pituitary, or the gonads, one can effectively shut down the reproductive system for good. If this can be achieved non-invasively, we will be able to reach our goal of developing a nonsurgical sterilant for companion animals.

For decades researchers have been attempting gonadotrope ablation, but most have been unsuccessful in completely destroying these cells. Complete gonadotrope destruction will result in sterility, which is why gonadotropes are such an attractive target for our program. Initial findings from Dr. Renquist’s first Michelson Grant-funded project have shown that gonadotropes are resistant to targeted toxins, so in this new project the Renquist team will focus on enhancing the efficacy of internalized toxins. They envision that they will have an optimized cytotoxin ready for testing in mice by the end of this two-year study.

The Michelson Prize & Grants program has approved a total of 35 projects for funding since its inception in 2008 and has committed nearly $15 million to those projects. Every day, our investigators are getting closer to unlocking the key to permanent, nonsurgical sterilization in companion animals. We are proud to support their work and are grateful for their dedication to our cause!

New MPG Research Project Underway at Massachusetts General Hospital

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology is happy to announce that a new research project has begun this month in the search for a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs.

Patricia Donahoe, MD, and David Pepin, PhD, both of the Simches Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, have teamed up for a three year grant totaling $605,366 titled, “Single treatment with AAV9 Mullerian Inhibiting Substance as an ideal permanent contraceptive.” Dr. Donahoe, the Director of Pediatric Surgical Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, is a pioneer researcher of Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS), a recombinant reproductive hormone. While much of her research in the past has focused on MIS uses as a treatment for ovarian cancer, she will now apply her expertise to the Michelson Prize & Grants mission.

Dr. Pepin, a trained reproductive biologist, joined the Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011 as a Research Fellow and an Ann Schreiber Mentored Investigator. More recently, he joined the Harvard Medical School faculty in 2014 as an Instructor in the Department of Surgery. On this project, he will be working with Dr. Donahoe to engineer new peptide modifications of MIS and introduce them into an adeno-associated viral vector.

In response to the new project, Dr. Gary K. Michelson said, “We are delighted that Dr. Donahoe and Dr. Pepin, two leading experts in MIS, are taking their knowledge and applying it to the need for a nonsurgical, permanent sterilant for cats and dogs. This is a brand new approach for the Michelson Grants, and we can’t wait to see how their research progresses.”

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology, funded through the generous contributions of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson, has committed over $14 million in international research grants toward a nonsurgical sterilization method for dogs and cats. For more information about all Michelson grantees and their research, visit our Current Grantee Profiles and Research Findings pages.

New Year, New MPG Projects!

As 2015 begins, the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology is happy to announce that two new projects have also recently begun!

John Lannutti, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University, has just begun his project, a four-year grant totaling $409,327 titled, “Electrospun delivery to enhance the effectiveness of anti-fertility strategies.” Dr. Lannutti is a leading expert in the field of electrospinning, a new technology in the biomaterials community.

Additionally, David Mooney, PhD, a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, began work in November on a three-year grant totaling $731,567 for his project titled, “Infection-mimicking biomaterials for vaccination against gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH).” Dr. Mooney’s research is focused on the design and synthesis of biomaterials that regulate the fate of cells in the body.

With these new projects beginning, Dr. Gary K. Michelson said, “We are thrilled that Drs. Lannutti and Mooney have committed to applying their expertise and cutting edge techniques to the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology is a leader in providing international research grants for the sole purpose of finding a nonsurgical sterilization method for dogs and cats. Now entering its seventh year, the Michelson Prize & Grants, funded through the generous contributions of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson, has committed over $13 million total in grant funding. For more information about all Michelson grantees and their research, visit our Current Grantee Profiles and Research Findings pages.

2014: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants

As 2014 winds down, we at the Gary Michelson Prize & Grants program would like to take some time to reflect on all of the work that our applicants, grantees, board members, and program staff have carried out over the past year.

The MPG program had two milestone achievements in 2014: we received our 300th letter of intent and 100th grant proposal! Our Scientific Advisory Board voted to approve 3 new projects, the details of which will be announced in new blogs as soon as those projects are ready to begin. We will start the New Year having committed over $14 million to more than 30 approved projects worldwide.

Welcoming New Members to our Scientific Advisory Board

Members of our Scientific Advisory Board review all of the LOIs and proposals that we receive, so you can imagine how busy our advisors were this year! We were also excited to welcome the following 5 new advisors to our board:

  • Margaret Barr, DVM, PhD, a Professor of Virology and Immunology at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Thomas Conlon, PhD, an Assistant Professor in Pediatrics and Director of the Powell Gene Therapy Center Toxicology Core at the University of Florida;
  • Kevin Morris, PhD, a Research Scholar in Residence at the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver;
  • Amy Ross, PhD, the President of the Board of Governors of the University of Southern California Alumni Association; and
  • Marcel Van Duin, PhD, Senior Director, Reproductive Health Research at Ferring Research Institute.

You can read more about all of the advisors on our board by visiting our Scientific Advisory Board.

Our advisors also accompany program staff on site visits during the first year of every Michelson Grant-funded project. This year, advisors traveled all over the world to perform site visits with grantees in The Netherlands, Scotland, Canada, and the US.

Gary Michelson Grant Funded Projects

Our grantees have been keeping themselves quite busy as well! In May we hosted our 3rd Michelson Grantee Meeting, which brought together investigators from all over the world, Scientific Advisory Board members, and program staff during a full-day meeting consisting of plenary and small group sessions. We are always impressed by our investigators’ passion for the projects that they are working on and by the expertise and advice that they share with other Michelson grantees at these meetings. We are grateful to have been hosted by the innovative group at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, CA for this meeting and were graciously treated to an informative tour of their impressive facilities after our meeting concluded.

Five Michelson Grant-funded projects led by the following investigators were completed in 2014:

  • Meenakshi Alreja, PhD, at Yale University;
  • Cristina Gobello, MV, DVM, DECAR, at the National University of La Plata;
  • Tatiana Samoylova, PhD, at Auburn University;
  • Auke Schaefers-Okkens, DVM, PhD, at Utrecht University; and
  • Kent Van Kampen, DVM, PhD, at Vaxin Inc.

Visit our Research Findings page to learn more about the important contributions that these projects have made in the field of nonsurgical sterilization.

Michelson Prize & Grants Yearly Overview

The new and improved Michelson Prize & Grants website launched on February 25th – the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day – and we couldn’t be happier with our updated look! We hope that you have been enjoying the new Blog and FAQ features and improved navigation and presentation of our website.

The MPG program sponsored exhibit booths at 8 conferences this year including annual meetings of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy, the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and the Society for Neuroscience. We were also incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel internationally to attend the 11th International Symposium on GnRH in Salzburg, Austria and the World Congress of Reproductive Biology in Edinburgh, Scotland. Meetings like these provide important opportunities for our program staff to meet researchers working in fields that are relevant to our mission and to inform potential applicants about our international research grants. In fact, many of the people that we’ve met at conferences like these have gone on to become Michelson grantees and members of our Scientific Advisory Board!

Every year our grantees, scientific advisors, and program staff work together to make great strides in the field of nonsurgical sterilization in our shared effort to end the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable companion animals in shelters. We are looking forward to everything that 2015 has in store for us, including more Scientific Advisory Board meetings to review new grant proposals, a summer grantee meeting, site visits for newly funded projects, and conference exhibit opportunities.

Many thanks to Dr. Gary Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson, whose generous contributions have made possible all of the MPG program’s accomplishments so far, and all of those yet to come.

We wish you and yours a safe and happy New Year!

Three New Members Join the MPG Scientific Advisory Board

The Scientific Advisory Board of the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology has gained three new members: Drs. Thomas Conlon, Kevin Morris, and Marcel Van Duin.

Thomas Conlon, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Pediatrics and the Director of the Powell Gene Therapy Center Toxicology Core at the University of Florida. As the Director of the Toxicology Core, Dr. Conlon facilitates efficient, cost-effective, and rigorous preclinical testing of gene therapy vectors, with a special emphasis on recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) vectors. Dr. Conlon has also collaborated with the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine to identify and treat two types of cardiac problems experienced in dogs.

Kevin Morris, PhD, has been actively involved in cancer research in both academic and biotechnology environments for over 20 years. He has served as the Principal Investigator on a wide range of studies in animal sheltering, pet overpopulation, and the field of human-animal interaction. Dr. Morris is currently serving as the Co-Principal Investigator on the American Humane Association’s Canines and Childhood Cancer Study and is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs (ACC&D).

Marcel Van Duin, PhD, is the Senior Director, Therapeutic Area Head Reproductive Health Research at the Ferring Research Institute in San Diego, CA. Dr. Van Duin has over 25 years’ experience in various leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry, including as the Head of Pharmacology at Organon Research in Newhouse, Scotland, where he was responsible for all pharmacological research in the areas of reproductive biology, oncology, immunology, and toxicology, as well as the animal research facilities.

Says Dr. Gary Michelson, the founder of the Found Animals Foundation, “I am delighted to welcome Drs. Conlon, Morris and Van Duin to the Scientific Advisory Board. Their expertise in gene therapy, molecular biology and reproductive biology strengthen our Board.”

These newest members join nineteen other elite experts in the fields of reproductive biology, neuroscience, veterinary medicine, immunology, and toxicology on the Scientific Advisory Board. As a group, they review grant proposals and guide the Michelson Prize & Grants program toward our goal of finding a nonsurgical sterilant for use in male and female cats and dogs.

We are very excited to welcome these new board members to the fold and look forward to the exciting new projects that the Board will be reviewing in 2015!

USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience Breaks Ground

A new era in medical research began in October, as the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience broke ground on the University Park Campus of the University of Southern California (USC).

The new building, made possible by a $50 million gift from Dr. Gary Michelson, the founder of the Found Animals Foundation, and his wife Alya Michelson, will add 190,000 square feet to the campus and will accommodate about 25 to 30 investigators working in collaborative, shared lab spaces. In addition to the flexible labs, the building will also hold a Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis, a nanofabrication facility, and a suite of microscopy imaging technology – all to be outfitted with top-of-line tools and equipment. The Center is expected to be completed in 2017.

The creation of the USC Michelson Center marks a new collaboration between the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Says Dr. Michelson, “USC is well-known for producing entrepreneurs in a wide array of disciplines, and the USC Michelson Center will now help leverage the university’s network of scientists and engineers to tackle challenges in health, biomedicine, and many related fields.” Further, Dr. Michelson predicted that the Los Angeles area will soon become an epicenter for biomedical research.

The Michelson Prize & Grants team is especially excited about the USC Michelson Center, as its promise of integrative research coincides with our approaches in reproductive biology, toxicology, immunology, and many other disciplines to find a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to hearing more from the Center!

MPG Scientific Advisory Board Visits the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

The Scientific Advisory Board of the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology program recently held their final meeting of the year, but this was no typical board meeting – this month the Board found themselves at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden spending time with Bactrian camels, a cheetah, and the only Sumatran rhino in captivity in Northern America. They even got up-close and personal with several free-roaming peacocks (who tend to think they run the Zoo)!

This exciting trip was made possible through the generous hospitality of Dr. Bill Swanson, the Director of Animal Research at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), and one of MPG’s Scientific Advisory Board members. Not only did Dr. Swanson volunteer to host the Board meeting, but he also graciously gave the Board a “backstage tour” of the Zoo the following day.

In addition to holding this meeting in a new and exciting venue, the meeting format this time around was also very different for our Board. Rather than evaluate new proposals for funding consideration, the Board took a close look at the 33 projects that it has approved over the past 5 years in order to draw important conclusions about which approaches and targets appear to be the most promising, and to develop clear ideas about where the program should head in the future. While the Board is very excited about all of the Michelson Grant research findings generated since it awarded its first grant in 2009, strategic planning exercises like this will ensure that we are seeking out and funding projects that are most likely to quickly help us reach our goal of developing a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs.

On the day following our meeting, Dr. Swanson treated the Board to a tour of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, which included stops along the way at CREW’s facilities, the Zoo’s veterinary hospital, and meet-and-greets with Humphrey and Jack (Bactrian camels), Harapan (Sumatran rhino), and Savanna (cheetah), one of the Cat Ambassadors of the Zoo.

What the Board found was that Jack (Humphrey’s son) loved to have his picture taken, Harapan enjoys a good nose rub, and Savanna purrs just like any other house cat (although much louder).

The Board also learned about the crucial conservation work CREW is performing on a daily basis. Through advanced animal research and plant research, CREW is working to secure a positive future for endangered species. CREW’s current Signature Conservation Projects include exceptional plants, rhinos, small cats, and polar bears.

The next MPG Board meeting will take place in February 2015 and, although it won’t include visits with endangered species or exotic animals, it will bring the Board another opportunity to review new and innovative proposals in the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilization method for cats and dogs. The whole Michelson Prize & Grants team looks forward to it!

 

Michelson Prize & Grants Featured on NPR!

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology was recently featured on 89.3 KPCC-FM, the Southern California National Public Radio affiliate, to discuss the success of the program to date in the search for a single-dose, permanent, nonsurgical sterilization method for cats and dogs.

The story features insight into the Michelson Prize & Grants program from both Aimee Gilbreath, Executive Director of the Found Animals Foundation, as well as Dr. R. Scott Struthers, the President and Chief Scientific Officer of Crinetics Pharmaceuticals and a current Michelson Grantee.

The story comes at an exciting time for the Michelson Prize & Grants program, as two more grants get underway. Cristina Gobello, MV, DVM, Small Animal Specialist, DECAR, a Professor and Investigator at the Laboratory of Reproductive Physiology at the National University of La Plata and the National Research Council of Argentina, recently began her second Michelson Grant-funded project, a four-year grant totaling $132,576 titled, “Prepubetal administration of a long term release GnRH agonist in domestic dogs: A Pilot Study.” Dr. Gobello recently completed another three-year project funded by the Michelson Grants totaling $91,638.

Additionally, Sergio Ojeda, DVM, a Senior Scientist in the Division of Neuroscience at the Oregon National Primate Research Center will begin a two-year grant totaling $471,487 in October for his project, “Engineering viral vectors to target the cat hypothalamus with sterilizing molecules.”

As the sole funders of the Michelson Prize & Grants program, Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson are proud of the continued commitment that researchers such as Drs. Struthers, Gobello, and Ojeda are making towards finding a single-dose, permanent, nonsurgical sterilant for both cats and dogs. Says Dr. Michelson, “I am excited by the progress we’ve made in the nearly six years since we launched this program. We congratulate Drs. Gobello and Ojeda on their newly approved grants and thank Jed Kim and KPCC for their thoughtful coverage.”

For more information about all Michelson grantees, visit our Current Grantee Profiles and Research Findings pages.

New Michelson Grant Projects Begin!

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology is excited to announce several new projects that are currently underway.

R. John Aitken, PhD, ScD, FRSE, a Laureate Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia recently began his second Michelson Grant-funded project, a three-year grant totaling $516,377 titled, “Alkylated FSH peptides as mediators of germ cell depletion.” Dr. Aitken recently completed another three-year project funded by the Michelson Grants totaling $908,554.

Additionally, Prema Narayan, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine was recently awarded a three-year grant totaling $581,287 for her project, “Novel toxin conjugates for targeted ablation of LHR expressing cells to induce infertility.”

Earlier this year, Tatiana I. Samoylova, PhD, an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, began her second Michelson Grant-funded project, titled “Ablation of pituitary gonadotropes by DNA vaccine targeting GnRH receptor: Proof of principle study in mice.” This will be a two-year project totaling $328,698. Dr. Samoylova also recently completed another two-year project funded by the Michelson Grants totaling $412,106.

The Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology team is encouraged by the commitment of these investigators to developing a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs.

The Michelson Prize & Grants program is funded through the generous contributions of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. Since its inception in 2008, the Michelson Prize & Grants has committed over $14 million in international research grants to approved projects in the field of nonsurgical sterilization. For more information about all Michelson grantees, visit our Current Grantee Profiles and Research Findings pages.

New Advisors Appointed to Scientific Board

The Michelson Prize & Grants welcomes two new members to the Scientific Advisory Board: Dr. Margaret Barr and Dr. Amy Ross.

Margaret Barr, DVM, PhD is a Professor of Virology and Immunology at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Western University of Health Sciences. Her research includes investigating the molecular epidemiology of canine parvovirus and rickettsial agents in Southern California. Dr. Barr also serves as project director for the Snow Leopard Functional Genomics Initiative, which studies the immunogenetics of captive and wild snow leopards.

Amy Ross, PhD, is the President of the Board of Governors of the University of Southern California Alumni Association. Her background is in Experimental Pathology, which led to more than 25 years of experience in the bone marrow transplantation and cancer diagnostics field. Dr. Ross’ research focused on the detection of tumor cells in the circulation of breast cancer patients as a means of targeting early relapse.

Dr. Barr and Dr. Ross will join the twenty other world-class advisors on the Board dedicated to guiding the MPG program toward the goal of a single-dose nonsurgical sterilant. To read more about our advisors and their areas of expertise, please visit our Board Bios page.

The Michelson Prize & Grants Goes to Europe!

In February, Michelson Prize & Grants Program Manager Becky Cyr had the incredible opportunity to attend the 11th International Symposium on GnRH in Salzburg, Austria. The three-day program, which attracted 170 participants from 35 different countries, was packed with sessions on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in cancer and reproduction. This was an important meeting for the Michelson Prize & Grants program, because every attendee was studying an aspect of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the master control hormone for reproduction. GnRH has long been a target for a nonsurgical sterilization method in animals, because it is evolutionarily conserved among different species and both males and females. This means that if someone can engineer a vaccine to immunize against GnRH for the lifetime of an animal, or deliver a cytotoxin to target and permanently kill or inhibit GnRH neurons, we could have a contender for the Michelson Prize. About 1/3 of our funded projects involve targeting GnRH neurons.

Because this meeting’s attendee base was such a receptive audience for our goal of developing a permanent, nonsurgical sterilant for companion animals, the Michelson Prize & Grants program organized an evening session on the second day of the conference, during which four Michelson Grantees presented their research approaches. The session began with a brief overview of the MPG program’s background and goals, our international research grants, and prize philanthropy model. Then, Drs. Auke Schaefers-Okkens (Utrecht University), Scott Struthers (Crinetics Pharmaceuticals), Doug Jones (Iowa State University), and Greg Dissen (Oregon Health & Sciences University) presented specific approaches that they are currently using with Michelson Grant funding to immunize against, ablate, or inhibit GnRH neurons. The session was very well attended, and attendees had stimulating questions for our grantees.

The GnRH symposium was a great success, and we are proud to have been a sponsor of such an important meeting. We’re looking forward to a busy conference season this year, with the upcoming Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting & ToxExpo on March 23-27 in Phoenix, AZ, and Experimental Biology on April 26-30 in San Diego, CA. We hope to see you there!

New Michelson Prize & Grants Website Launches on World Spay Day

February might be our favorite month out of the whole year. Not only is it Spay/Neuter Awareness Month, but today – February 25, 2014 – is also the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day.

If you’re reading this blog and you’re already a fan of the Michelson Prize & Grants program, the importance of spay/neuter is certainly not lost on you. Not only does it bring about specific health and behavioral advantages, like eliminating or reducing your pet’s chances of developing certain types of cancer and stopping your pet’s hormonally influenced reproductive behaviors, it also prevents the birth of unwanted litters. With an estimated 6-8 million cats and dogs entering animal shelters in the United States each year, spaying and neutering (also called “sterilizing”) our companion animals continues to be of utmost importance.

To celebrate World Spay Day’s 20th anniversary, we are very excited to announce the official launch of our new Michelson Prize & Grants website. We hope that you’ll take a few minutes of your day to browse through our new Frequently Asked Questions feature to learn more about our program, scroll through our easier to navigate Research Findings to read important conclusions drawn from completed Michelson Grant-funded projects, and review our Michelson Grant Application page for clarified instructions on how to apply for a research grant.

This year also marks the 5th anniversary of the Michelson Prize & Grants program. We continue to seek out new researchers who can join us in our mission to develop a permanent, single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for male and female cats and dogs, and are very enthusiastic about the 30+ projects we have approved for funding to date through the generous contributions of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson.

Dr. Gary K. Michelson Donates $50 Million to New USC Bioscience Center

Dr. Gary Michelson, founder of the Michelson Prize & Grants program, has donated $50 million to the University of Southern California for the construction of a new bioscience research building on campus.

The USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience will bring together researchers of multiple fields from within the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. USC News stated that the goal of the 190,000-square-foot center is “to turn the biological sciences into a quantitative and predictive science, fast-tracking the detection and cure of diseases.” With building completion expected three years from now, the Michelson Center will soon become a hub of scientific breakthroughs in health and related fields.

Many Michelson Grantees take a similar interdisciplinary approach in their research toward development of a single-dose nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We hope to one day fund the innovative researchers at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience with Michelson Grants.

2013: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants

As 2013 draws to a close, we at the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology would like to share with you the exciting accomplishments of our program and our grantees over the past year in our shared quest to develop a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs.

Since January we have received a grand total of 75 letters of intent and 22 grant proposals from investigators at academic research institutions and biotechnology firms around the world. Nine proposals totaling nearly $4 million were approved for funding which means that, to date, we have committed just over $14 million to a total of 32 projects worldwide. Read more about current Michelson Grantees on our Current Grantee Profiles page.

Michelson Grant funded projects from R. John Aitken, ScD, FRSE at the University of Newcastle, Larry Chamley, PhD at the University of Auckland, William Ja, PhD at Scripps Research Institute, Megan Lloyd, PhD at the University of Western Australia, and Ralph Meyer, PhD at Utah State University completed in 2013. Visit our Research Findings page to learn more about the important discoveries that these and other Michelson Grantees have made in their efforts to develop a nonsurgical method for spaying and neutering companion animals.

In October we held a meeting of a subset of Michelson Grantees to discuss kisspeptin and its potential role in the development of a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. Dr. Robert Steiner, a kisspeptin expert at the University of Washington, gave an informative keynote address to attendees, who included Dr. Gary Michelson, 9 investigators working on 5 Michelson Grant funded projects, members of our Scientific Advisory Board, and Found Animals and Michelson Prize & Grants staff. Grantees in attendance shared their research approaches and findings and engaged in an exciting group discussion on how to take us closer to our goal of a Michelson Prize-worthy product.

This year we welcomed 5 new members to our Scientific Advisory Board: Janet Baer, DVM, Gary Richwald, MD, MPH, Josep Rutllant, DVM, PhD, William Swanson, DVM, PhD, and Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves, DVM, PhD. We are excited about the expertise and insight that each of these new advisors brings to our program and are looking forward to working with them in the new year.

Michelson Prize & Grants program staff participated in 11 conferences in 2013 including annual meetings of the Endocrine Society, the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and the Society for Neuroscience. Sponsorship of exhibit booths at scientific meetings enables us to meet face to face with potential grant applicants and allows us to spread the word about our international research grants and prize philanthropy model to a large group of researchers involved in relevant work.

We are constantly encouraged by and thankful for the exciting progress that is made every day by our grantees, and are looking forward to another busy year of participating in scientific meetings, hosting our second meeting of all Michelson grantees in May, and launching our new website in February.

We wish you all a happy, healthy, and productive 2014!

New Advisors on Board for MPG!

Two new leading experts, Dr. Josep Rutllant and Dr. Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves, have been appointed to the Michelson Prize & Grants Scientific Advisory Board.

Josep Rutllant, DVM, PhD is a professor of anatomy and embryology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Rutllant has many years of experience in general areas of sperm cell biology and function, including isolation of spermatogonial stem cells and Sertoli cells from dogs, and patterns of MHC protein expression during porcine spermatogenesis.

 

Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves, DVM, PhD is the Regulatory Affairs Program Administrator in the Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, also serving as a board certified laboratory animal veterinarian. Dr. Zahorsky-Reeves completed her PhD in comparative and experimental medicine and focused her postdoctoral research on xenotransplantation genetics.

 

Our Board advisors provide invaluable insight, individually by applying their specific areas of expertise when reviewing letters of intent and grant proposals, and collectively by fostering exciting ideas on how to bring the MPG program closer to the goal of a single-dose nonsurgical sterilant.

We welcome Dr. Rutllant and Dr. Zahorsky-Reeves in joining us to solve this global challenge!

To read more about our Scientific Advisory Board members, please visit the Board Bios page.

Three New Grantees Announced!

We are pleased to announce that the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology has three new projects that are recently underway!

Dr. George Bentley, an Associate Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been awarded a two-year grant totaling $249,999 for his project titled, “Over-Expression of the Novel RFamide Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone: Proof of Concept Study in Rats.”

Dr. Jonathan LaMarre, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph, will receive a two-year grant totaling $260,310 for his study titled, “Targeting piRNA/Endo-siRNA Pathways for the Control of Companion Animal Fertility.”

Finally, Dr. David Putnam, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, has been awarded a two-year grant totaling $352,365 for his proposal titled, “Self-boosting pathogen-like particle multi-antigen vaccine for female immunosterilization.”

We very are excited about the promise that these new projects hold for taking us closer to our goal of developing a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. For more information about these and other current Michelson grantees, visit our Current Grantee Profiles and Research Findings pages.

Dr. Gary Michelson, the founder and sole funder of the Found Animals Foundation, has devoted up to $50 million in international grant funding through the Michelson Prize & Grants program. Since awarding our first grant in 2009, we have committed over $12 million to approved projects in nonsurgical sterilization research. We are looking forward to receiving more innovative proposals during our upcoming grant cycles in 2014!