Board of Governors approves two new 'Centers of Excellence'

<p>A $10 million boost from the state three years ago funded a University of Florida program to produce treatments and cures for human diseases and create new companies and high-wage jobs.</p>

<p>With hopes to compete in the field of global technology, the biotechnology training and research center is just getting under way.</p>

<p>"After three years of hard work, we really launched the center and all its activities in the last two months," said Richard Snyder, director of the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology.</p>

<p>It was one of three centers funded by the state in 2003. The investment was part of a statewide initiative to spur biotech growth in Florida, which recently attracted Scripps, The Burnham Institute for Medical Research and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.</p>

<p>Two weeks ago, the Board of Governors - the oversight board of the state's 11 universities - approved $30 million to create six centers of excellence aimed at getting university research into the marketplace.</p>

<p>UF will receive $8.5 million to create two new centers, making it the only university in Florida with three centers. About $4 million will go to research in nanotechnology - technology on the molecular scale.</p>

<p>Another $4.5 million will fund the Florida Center of Excellence Technology Incubator, a branch of the Florida Institute for Sustainable Energy which will incorporate the research of commercial products to create companies and jobs in the area, said Eric Wachsman, director of the Florida Institute for Sustainable Energy.</p>

<p>Part of the center is a prototype development and demonstration laboratory. It involves research with fuel cells and solar cells, and aims to "scale up those devices to a scale sufficient to get an industry interest in it," Wachsman said.</p>

<p>The other half is a biofuel pilot plant for experimentation in the "cellulosic ethanol process," creating ethanol as a fuel to replace gasoline or to supplement gasoline, Wachsman said.</p>

<p>"UF has the patented technology to utilize Florida's biomass - the woody waste, basically, when the storm comes through - as well as waste from Florida's agricultural energy," he said.</p>

<p>The materials can be commercialized to lessen energy consumption by improving gas mileage and reducing greenhouse gases, according to Wachsman. And it could jump-start a new industry in Gainesville.</p>

<p>"By having the technology incubator here . . . if the students graduate, they can actually get a job here instead of having to move away and work some place else," Wachsman said.</p>

<p>Snyder, director of the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology, is familiar with the long process of getting a research center up and running.</p>

<p>Only two weeks ago the university dedicated a 46,000-square-foot facility in Alachua's Progress Corporate Park.</p>

<p>The center was created to explore the science behind drug development: designing appropriate clinical trials, inventing manufacturing technology used in making drugs, making the drugs in compliance with the FDA, testing them and providing drugs to medical doctors to test them in human clinical trials, Snyder said.</p>

<p>The cutting-edge drugs that the center specializes in making are those classified as biologicals. They are protein-based and have cellular systems, unlike chemically based drugs such as aspirin, Snyder said.</p>

<p>In October, the center started manufacturing biological drugs for human use, which may be able to treat a variety of acquired and inherited diseases such as heart disease, infectious diseases and metabolic diseases.</p>

<p>"We have a variety of investigators throughout the state," Snyder said. "They've shown that their compounds are effective in animals."</p>

<p>The next step is in the hands of the doctors.</p>

<p>"As soon as they can enroll patients and get their informed consent . . . they will start administering (the drugs)," Snyder said.</p>

<p>In the meantime, the Education Center is spreading research opportunities.</p>

<p>The faculty, which consists of about 30 employees, is working to expand the education programs to include more advanced topics.</p>

<p>The faculty trained its first group of middle school, high school and community college teachers this summer.</p>

<p>And as of this month, 374 students have learned about biotechnology at the center, according to Snyder.</p>

<p>"We are going to be distributing our curriculum statewide so that other school districts and community colleges start to deliver the curriculum we're developing," Snyder said.</p>

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<p>MSE professors chaired both committees. Good department.</p>