Montana State University
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Michele HardyMontana State University researchers will receive $6 million over five years to study alternative medicines that target the intestine and lungs, university recipients announced Wednesday.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, will provide MSU with $1.2 million a year for three new research projects in the Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology, said professor and recipient Mark Jutila. Each project will examine a different approach to the use of alternative medicine. Each will be led by an established investigator -- Jutila, David Pascual and Michele Hardy -- and involve junior faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduate students.

The grant is different from other NIH program grants that MSU has received because it funds a group effort by established scientists, Jutila said. Previous grants focused on developing new faculty.

"This was a nice one to get especially in this day and age," Jutila added. "Grant funding is so tight right now."

Hardy said, "We are extremely, extremely happy... We are pretty psyched over here."

Hardy's program will focus on plant products with anti-viral activity. She also wants to look at the effects of natural products on the immune system. Jutila's program will investigate plant products that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activity. Pascual's program will focus on bacterial products to see how they treat autoimmune diseases, like arthritis.

"This is a group effort," Pascual said. "It's going to facilitate young investigators to get their feet wet, to get themselves going. That's what we are excited about."

By young investigators, Pascual referred to new faculty members, as well as postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Jutila noted that the grant will allow them to participate in one of the three projects and develop new research directions that relate to the grant.

The researchers will investigate products already on the market and medicines still being developed, Jutila continued. The overall goal of the program is to understand the mechanisms that make alternative and complementary medicines work or not work. The scientists plan to examine the exact molecules that induce an effect and see how they work.

"We are looking at the specific mechanisms of action," Jutila said.

Josephine P. Briggs, M.D. and director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, said MSU's center is one of four new Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The others are at the University of Chicago, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Chicago center deals with herbal research on colorectal cancer. The other two investigate meditation.

"All are based on strong preliminary work and apply natural-product and mind-body approaches across a wide range of health conditions and diseases that affect the American public," Briggs said. "Their design -- a multidisciplinary, collaborative structure -- increases opportunities for discovery."

Jutila said MSU received the grant, in large part, because of two new research buildings in the College of Agriculture.

"That was a huge factor in getting this grant funded," Jutila said. "The established programs here, the interactions between our groups was a selling point within the program, but it's what our facilities allow us to do that really made a unique approach. Not everybody has access to that type of research facility."

The Jutila Research Laboratory is a Biosafety Level-3 facility where much of the research will take place, Jutila said. The lab was named after John Jutila, Mark's father and former vice president for research at MSU. The Jutila lab and the Johnson Family Livestock Facility are located next to the Marsh Lab on the west side of S. 19th Ave. in Bozeman.

Hardy said MSU was also successful in receiving the grant because she, Jutila and Pascual are established investigators who have worked together well in the past. They are all interested in the same types of research.

"My expertise in virology and immune responses goes well with what Mark and David are doing," she added. "Our expertise is really complementary."

October 08, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service