The Caja Madrid Foundation in Spain has awarded NYUCD a $400,000
grant to promote an alliance in which medical researchers and paleoanthropologists
share their perspectives on tooth and bone development. Dr. Timothy
G. Bromage, an Adjunct Professor of Biomaterials and Biomimetics
and of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, directs the project,
which has cancer investigators at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center and the University of Santiago in Spain exchanging
data with Dr. Bromage and fellow paleoanthropologists at the National
Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.
Dr. Bromage is renowned for unearthing the oldest known remains
of the human genus with his discovery of a 2.4-million-year-old
jaw in equatorial Africa 12 years ago. "Paleoanthropologists know
from studying evolution that teeth and bones grow incrementally,
a bit every day," he said, "and understand how to analyze aberrations
in that growth for clues about the onset of disease. This grant
enables us to work with medical researchers to track the onset of
developmental anomalies related to cancer and other diseases by
studying the teeth and bones of present-day animals."
Part of the funding will enable Dr. Bromage and his collaborators
to continue research begun two years ago with a grant of $400,000
from five other Spanish foundations that also support scientific
research. That research focuses on analyzing skeletons of animals
living in areas with polluted air and groundwater on Long Island
for clues that could help identify which carcinogens contribute
to high human cancer rates reported there.
The new grant will also fund laboratory equipment purchases, most
notably an innovative scanning electron microscope that can analyze
early human teeth for clues about evolution, as well as visualize
the onset of diseases affecting modern man. Specimens examined by
this microscope, and a second one that Dr. Bromage recently acquired,
do not need to be dried first, which can cause their shape and size
to become distorted.
With these acquisitions, Dr. Bromage can provide imaging services
to other research institutions, such as Sloan-Kettering, using one
of the most advanced scanning electron microscopy suites in New
York City. Sloan-Kettering scientists send him skeletons of embryonic
mice in which genes implicated in cancer have been inactivated,
and he sends back images of the skeletons that highlight miniscule,
but potentially significant, changes in skeletal growth. When combined
with analyses of cellular and molecular biology, the images provide
cancer researchers with an in-depth picture of the embryo's development
to help set the stage for the formulation of gene-based cancer therapies.
The research also has implications for paleoanthropology. Dr. Bromage
hopes that observations about the impact of genetic manipulation
on embryonic mouse development will help him devise new hypotheses
about the role specific genes have played in human evolution.