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Clarkson, Trudeau unite in hopes of creating biotechnology powerhouse

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Clarkson University and the Trudeau Institute, Saranac Lake, aim to make the north country a research hub by fusing biology and technology, education and research.

The two partnered last year, a move born of financial necessity for the well-known research institute. Trudeau used to be funded solely by attracting lucrative grants, but in recent years this business model has become unsustainable for many such facilities.

A $5 million initial investment from the state to support the partnership, with up to $35 million in total coming over the next five years, provided much-needed stability for Trudeau, which was on the brink of eliminating up to 80 jobs.

“We have some relief that these grants from New York state has provided us, but it hasn’t decreased our enthusiasm to pursue those very large grants,” said Trudeau Institute President Ronald H. Goldfarb.

The partnership with Clarkson opens up avenues of research that neither institution could pursue on their own.

Clarkson is known for engineering, Trudeau for medical research. Together they are poised to enter the rapidly-growing field of biotechnology, which is the marriage of both fields, to create new medical applications and more.

“I think research in the health sciences is going to be interdisciplinary,” said Clarkson University Provost Charles E. Thorpe.

Faculty from both institutions meet regularly to talk and swap ideas.

“People will look at things in different ways, and I think that’s the way to make progress,” Mr. Thorpe said.

One of the first research projects born from the partnership is a study into the use of nanoparticles in vaccines.

“We’re trying a collaboration of things that hasn’t been tried before,” said Trudeau researcher Elizabeth Leadbetter.

Basically, nanoparticles act as tiny containers that can carry the components of a vaccine into the targeted cells. They are engineered at the molecular level, requiring expertise that nobody at Trudeau has.

The institute’s researchers knew how to test the nanoparticles, and had ideas on how to implement them into vaccines, but they needed help to create them.

“We really needed a nanoparticle collaborator, somebody who knows how to make these particles,” Ms. Leadbetter said.

Fortunately, Clarkson University professors could provide the needed know-how.

If all goes well, Ms. Leadbetter and her team will be able to use the particles to create vaccines that are cheaper, more efficient and more effective than what is used now.

The vaccine being studied treats streptococcus pneumoniae, a common disease that has much in common with many other pathogens. If research over the coming years remains promising, the vaccines could be adapted to treat many illnesses, Ms. Leadbetter said.

This is just one early example of what researchers hope will be many projects that combine the strengths of both institutions.

Mr. Goldfarb said this could attract industry to the north country. Patents, products and devices designed by one or both institutions could launch new businesses. These businesses may be convinced to stay in the north country to remain close to the research and expertise Clarkson and Trudeau provide, Mr. Goldfarb said.

“We’re aware of each other’s strengths, and we’re very eager to move forward to attract people to the north country,” he said.

Trudeau is already in talks with a company that is considering a move to the region, although Mr. Goldfarb said he could not disclose any details.

Research is the first part of a two-pronged approach to launch the partnership. The second is education.

“We’re right here in the north country. A lot of the students that come to Clarkson are in the north country region,” Mr. Thorpe said.

Clarkson students are already participating in Trudeau’s research efforts, with plans for joint classes planned for the future.

The hope, according to Mr. Thorpe, is that students learning and working on biotechnology could be encouraged to stay in the area and start businesses of their own.

Clarkson’s business incubator will participate in the state’s Start-Up NY initiative, which means businesses will be able to operate tax-free for a period of time.

Officials from both institutions hope the partnership can be used to capitilize on the rapidly-growing biotechnology industry.

“We’re off to a good start,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

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