December 2009

Burnham Institute Touches Down in Orlando

The first technology is a very extensive small-animal phenotyping core that will allow researchers to evaluate insulin resistance, body fat mass and composition, heart function and energy expenditure of mouse models. The second is a metabolomics platform, set up in collaboration with Duke University’s Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center, which will conduct mass-spectrometry-based metabolite profiling.

“Both of these sophisticated technology resources can put into overdrive our opportunity to do translational research that could not be done at traditional academic institutes,” says Kelly, who was at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis prior to taking the scientific director role in early 2008.

***

“An Out-of-the-Box Proposal.” That curiously titled e-mail header, from Kelly, was Philip A. Wood’s first introduction to Burnham’s Orlando facility. “I had known Dan for about 20 years,” says Wood, who was a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham when that message hit his inbox last year. “We had published some papers together and gave talks on the same stages, so I decided to give it a look. After all, an out-of-the-box proposal was exactly what I needed at that point in my career.”

Philip A. Wood
A leading expert in animal models of disease, Philip A. Wood came to Burnham at Lake Nona to unravel the genetics behind rare inherited metabolic diseases as well as complex traits like metabolic syndrome.

After a visit to Orlando that he describes as completely first class, Wood was hooked. “Everything was just so well done and efficient; all the resources I wanted for my studies into fatty acid oxidation and how the body handles increased fat loads— metabolic physiology, genomics and metabolomics— were under one roof, and I realized I could do my research here with minimum aggravation. Add in the fact that I don’t really like snow, and coming here was a no-brainer.”

From Kelly’s point of view, bringing Wood on board was also an easy decision. As a trained veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience, Wood knew the medicine and genetics of seven different species, which allowed him to think in comparative terms. That kind of broad expertise was perfect for Kelly’s vision of assembling a diverse research team that could take advantage of the technology platforms.

“I was very keen on developing an environment without barriers,” says Kelly. “Looking at it from a discovery sense, we need to consider metabolism from many different disciplines.”

That meant bringing in scientists with Ph.D.s, M.D.s and even D.V.M.s, as well as mixing strong academics like Timothy Osborne, who was a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Irvine, before coming over as metabolic signaling and disease program director, with industry types like Stephen Gardell, who had spent 20 years working in drug discovery at major pharmaceutical companies.

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