Spring 2005 Table of Contents
Grants and Philanthropy
Caja Madrid Foundation Grant Promotes Alliance Between Medical Researchers and Paleoanthropologists

Scanning electron microscope image of the humerus (a forelimb bone) of a 16-day mouse embryo in which a gene coding for an enzyme responsible for cell division has been inactivated. Researchers compare these images with those of normal embryos to learn about normal and abnormal skeletal development.

Images of mouse embryos after they were stained to reveal cartilage (blue) and mineralized bone (red). Above, a 'gene knockout' embryo, and below, a normal one, reveal differences in bone surface textures.

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.