UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL NAMES FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF GENE THERAPY CENTER

Guangping Gao, PhD, will lead the newly established center starting March 31

March 17, 2008

WORCESTER, Mass.—Guangping Gao, PhD, an internationally recognized researcher of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs), will serve as the founding director of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Gene Therapy Center. Dr. Gao comes to Worcester from a position as director of the Vector Program of Gene Therapy Program in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.                     

“The establishment of UMMS Gene Therapy Center is vital to realizing our vision of translating basic science discoveries into new therapies for patients with disabling diseases,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, provost and executive deputy chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and professor of pediatrics. “A dedicated researcher, Dr. Gao is among the young investigators who are well recognized in the field of viral vector based gene therapy and genetic vaccine research, and we are looking forward to his leadership in establishing the necessary collaborations between basic scientists in the UMMS Gene Therapy Center and clinician investigators.”

As director of the new Center, Gao will oversee the facilitation of basic and pre-clinical research leading to the gene therapy treatment of human disease and the development of effective gene vectors, which are agents that carry modified genetic material, such as recombinant DNA, and may be used to introduce outside genes into the human cells. In addition to this role, he will be responsible for recruiting gene therapy investigators and hold an appointment as professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. He will also serve as scientific director of the UMMS—China Translational Research Initiative, which will allow scientists at UMMS and Tsinghua University in Beijing to collaborate and take fundamental research results and move them rapidly to the development of new drugs and medical devices. Tsinghua University has been ranked as the number one university in China for more than a decade.

Widely known for his major contributions to the development of third generation adenovirus vectors, Gao served as the driving force behind the discovery and vectorology of a novel family of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) and the development of adenovirus vector-based vaccine programs. Gao has recently worked with James M. Wilson, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and the head of Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues in China to develop the Vaccine Research Institute (VRI), a joint research program between the University of Pennsylvania and Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China. Gao has served as deputy director of the VRI, which identifies and characterizes causative agents for newly emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and develops effective prophylactic genetic vaccines for them.

A graduate of Florida International University (FIU), Gao received his doctoral degree in biomedical sciences, and completed his post-doctoral fellowship in gene therapy at the Institute for Human Gene Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He joined the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 and built his career in viral vector biology. In 1996, he served as the assistant director of the Human Applications Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and was primarily responsible for clinical adenovirus vector production. He was promoted to associate director and then to the director level to oversee the Vector Program for vector discovery and development, process development, vector production and quality control testing. During his tenure, he has developed an extensive collaborative research network with investigators in the gene therapy and genetic vaccine research communities at national and international levels.

“I am very excited to serve as the founding director of the UMMS Gene Therapy Center, and I am enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead, especially as UMMS builds upon Governor Deval Patrick’s life sciences initiative,” said Gao. “There are great opportunities at UMMS to expand translational research and to develop innovative treatments, and I value the institution’s commitment to pursue advanced therapeutics in the form of stem cell research, RNA interference and gene therapy.”

Gao is the author of more than 100 papers and holds 20 patents. In October and November of 2003, one of his papers on novel AAV vector discovery (published in the September 3, 2002 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) was selected by ISI as among the top 1 percent most cited papers and the top 0.1 percent most recent break-through papers. He serves on international committees, including the AAV Vector Manufacturing and Reference Standard Committees, the editorial board of Human Gene Therapy and study sections for the National Institutes of Health. His primary research interests include gene therapy for metabolic disorders affecting infants and children, as well as molecular mechanisms of AAV evolution and diversity, molecular interactions between endogenous AAV, AAV vector and the host genome, and molecular and cellular mechanisms of AAV vector transduction.

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About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $176 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The work of UMMS researcher Craig Mello, PhD, an investigator of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and his colleague Andrew Fire, PhD, then of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, toward the discovery of RNA interference was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, hailed as the “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2002 by Science magazine and has spawned a new and promising field of research, the global impact of which may prove astounding. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.umassmed.edu.

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Contact: Nicole Soucy, Office of Public Affairs, 508-856-2000, nicole.soucy@umassmed.edu