2019: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants

At the beginning of each year, we like to reflect on our important accomplishments from the past 12 months and prepare for new challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

Since the Michelson Prize & Grants program’s establishment in October 2008, we have committed just over $17 million to 38 grant projects worldwide. These projects have ranged in duration from 1 to 5+ years, have been carried out in all corners of the world, including the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina, and beyond, and have been led by top research scientists in various fields. We are so proud of our grantee community and of their continued progress toward the development of a nonsurgical sterilant for companion animals.

Our grantee teams have continued to publish and present important findings for the research community. In September 2019, Michelson Grant awardee Dr. Tatiana Samoylova at Auburn University published her research findings in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, marking the 25th scientific paper that has been published by a Michelson Grantee. Dr. Cristina Gobello, a Michelson Grantee based at the National University of La Plata in Argentina, presented her research findings at the Society for Theriogenology’s annual conference in Savannah, Georgia in July 2019. Publications and presentations like these are an integral part of the Michelson Prize & Grants program because they allow our grantees to continually advance the current knowledge on canine and feline reproduction. We are so grateful for our grantees’ commitment to this important work.

Looking to the year ahead, we are excited to announce that a brand new Michelson Grant project will commence in February 2020 under the direction of Drs. Lee Smith and John Aitken at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Drs. Smith and Aitken have each directed two Michelson Grant projects of their own, and this will be their first joint project. To read more about our newest innovative grant project, click here.

We are also thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the International Symposium for Canine & Feline Reproduction (ISCFR), which will take place in Milan, Italy on June 24-27, 2020. ISCFR is a scientific meeting that focuses on important research advancements made in the field of small animal reproduction and contraception. Our two-hour session on the first day of the conference will provide a wonderful opportunity for our grantees, staff, and board members to present important research findings to this community and will also give us the opportunity to learn about potential new approaches to nonsurgical sterilization that could be explored.

We want to thank Dr. Gary Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson for their continued vision for, and financial support of, the Michelson Prize & Grants program. As the primary funder of nonsurgical spay/neuter research for cats and dogs, the MPG program would not be possible without their commitment to animal welfare.

We are wishing you all a wonderful 2020!


Joint Research Effort of Michelson Grantees Kicks Off the New Year in Australia

This February, a new Michelson Grant project will initiate at the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia that will combine the efforts of two previous Michelson Grant recipients, Drs. Lee Smith and John Aitken. The project entitled “Development of nano pharmaceutical strategies for the sterilization of domestic cats and dogs” builds upon technologies developed in their previous projects while introducing new drug delivery technologies that are currently used in humans.

Within the male gonads (i.e. testes) are two cell types (Sertoli and Leydig) that are necessary for the maintenance of sperm development and maturation. Without the support functions of these two cell types, mature sperm cell pools would not develop, thus resulting in an infertile male. This new project aims to permanently disrupt both cell types by delivering a gene to Sertoli and Leydig cells that will cause cell death. The genetic payload will be delivered intravenously by a lipid sphere called a nanoparticle which protects the DNA inside until being internalized into the target cells. In order to target the nanoparticles to the Sertoli and Leydig cells specifically, nanoparticles can be designed to incorporate small peptide sequences on their surface that bind to receptors present on the target cells (i.e. FSH and LH receptors on Sertoli and Leydig cells) thereby adding a level of safety preventing the gene drug from being internalized by non-Sertoli and non-Leydig cells.

The introduction of genes into cells to treat human and animal disease is coming of age and has been primarily built upon the use of either viral vectors or nanoparticle technologies. The use of viral vectors requires the modification of the virus’s genome to incorporate the genes of interest to be introduced. The virus is then manufactured with this DNA inside. Viral vectors are limited in their ability to be modified to introduce targeting peptides on their surface as is needed in this project. In contrast, nanoparticles can be formulated with different ratios of the various lipid components that form the sphere that protects the DNA until it enters the cell. Because of this versatility of manufacturing, many interactions of the nanoparticle components and targeting ligands bound to the surface of the nanoparticle can be tested with ease.

We are looking forward to working with Drs. Smith and Aitken on this project over the coming years. This new use of nanoparticle technology in our research portfolio is exciting and a great complement to our viral vector projects underway. You can learn more about all of the projects that we’ve funded to date by visiting our Research Findings page.


2018: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants Program

As we look forward to a new year, we on the Michelson Prize & Grants program team would like to share some highlights from our 2018.

An important milestone was reached in 2018: On October 16th, the Michelson Prize & Grants celebrated its 10th anniversary as a program of The Michelson Found Animals Foundation. Over the past 10 years, the MPG program has committed a total of $15.8 million to 37 Michelson Grant projects around the world, representing an incredible investment in the future of spay/neuter and companion animal welfare.

2018 was also an important year for our friends at the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, which hosted its 6th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Methods of Pet Population Control in July. This 2.5-day meeting, which brought together 150 delegates from 13 countries, focused on contraceptive science as well as field science and implementation of nonsurgical sterilants. Several Michelson Grantees, as well as staff and scientific advisors of the Michelson Prize & Grants program, attended and presented their work at this important meeting. All abstracts, posters, and presentation videos are accessible on the ACC&D website for free. Many thanks to ACC&D for hosting such an informative meeting and for providing these resources at no cost on their website!

Our grantee teams have also continued to publish important findings for the research community. In 2018, Michelson Grant-funded work by Drs. Cristina Gobello, Doug Jones, Jonathan LaMarre, and Tatiana Samoylova were published in Theriogenology, Vaccine (twice!), Reproduction, and Molecular Biotechnology, respectively. Michelson Grantees have been published a total of 24 times over the past 10 years in highly-regarded peer-reviewed journals, significantly contributing to the current knowledge on canine and feline reproduction.

Looking ahead, we are excited to see what is in store for our three active Michelson Grant projects. Drs. Patricia Donahoe and David Pepin, based at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, are continuing their work to develop a gene transfer-based injection expressing Mullerian Inhibiting Substance to induce sterility in cats by blocking follicle recruitment. Dr. Lee Smith, with dual appointments at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of Newcastle in Australia, is working to refine microRNA technology to inhibit expression of the androgen receptor protein in cats and dogs. Finally, Dr. David Baker and his team at the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington in Seattle are seeking to computationally design mini-proteins that will bind to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), thereby preventing the hormone from binding to its receptor and potentially disrupting the HPG axis and causing infertility. Each of these projects holds an immense amount of promise, and we are looking forward to learning more about their potential in the months to come.

We are also pleased to share that C-Suite Quarterly named Dr. Gary K. Michelson, the founder and generous funder of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation, their LA Visionary of the Year in Philanthropy, Art, & Culture. The Michelson Prize & Grants team is ever grateful for the generosity of Dr. Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson for funding the Michelson Prize & Grants program in its entirety.

From all of us on Team MPG, we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe new year!


2017: A Year in Review for the Michelson Prize & Grants Program

How time flies! Can you believe that the Michelson Prize & Grants program celebrated its ninth anniversary this past October? As we look ahead to what the new year has in store for us, we like to take some time to reflect on the important work that our grantees and partners have accomplished in the past twelve months.

As of the end of 2017, the Michelson Prize & Grants program has committed a total of $15.5 million to 37 different projects across the globe. Last year we initiated one new Michelson Grant-funded project, which is being directed by Dr. Lee Smith at the University of Edinburgh. This 3.5-year project is a natural progression of Dr. Smith’s first Michelson Grant project in which he and his team used microRNA technology to inhibit expression of the androgen receptor protein in the testes of male mice. In this new project, Dr. Smith and his team will further refine their single-dose sterilant construct before initiating a clinical trial in cats and dogs.

Our hard-working grantee teams continue to generate important findings for the scientific community. Last year, Michelson Grant-funded work by Drs. Patricia Donahoe, Michael Munks, Tatiana Samoylova, and Lee Smith were published in PNAS, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, Current Medicinal Chemistry, and Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, respectively. As of the end of 2017, Michelson Grantees have been published 19 times in highly-regarded peer-reviewed journals, significantly contributing to the current knowledge on canine and feline reproduction. Several of our grantees already have draft manuscripts ready to submit in 2018, and we are excited to continue learning from their findings.

On the administrative side, we are thrilled to announce that the Michelson Found Animals Foundation hired Dr. Thomas J. Conlon as its first ever Chief Scientific Officer in March 2017. Dr. Conlon first began collaborating with the MPG program in October 2014 when he joined our Scientific Advisory Board. Since then, he has played an instrumental role in the program’s deepening understanding of the promise of gene transfer and its potential to help us achieve our goal of developing a nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. Dr. Conlon’s passion for animals, his ongoing interest in exploring how gene transfer techniques can be applied in the veterinary world. and his almost two decades of gene transfer research dovetails with the MPG program’s goals, and we couldn’t be happier that he is now on board as a staff member.

We are also excited to share that Dr. Graham Cox joined our Scientific Advisory Board in August 2017. Dr. Cox’s contributions to the veterinary vaccine research field include registering the first GnRH vaccine in the USA, attaining USDA clearance for a behavior-modifying vaccine for poultry, and demonstrating the utility of DNA vaccines in cattle. More detailed biographies of both Dr. Conlon and Dr. Cox can be found on our Scientific Advisory Board page.

As always, the Michelson Prize & Grants team is grateful for the generosity of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson for funding the Michelson Prize & Grants program. We wish you all a wonderful 2018!