David Mooney awarded Michelson Research Grant

Michelson Prize and Grants awarded Harvard bioengineer David Mooney a three–year grant exceeding $700,000 to pursue development of a nonsurgical spay and neuter vaccine technology.

David Mooney, PhD, a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was recently awarded a three-year grant totaling $731,567 to pursue development of a vaccine technology that would provide a nonsurgical method for spaying and neutering cats and dogs.

Mooney’s project, “Infection-mimicking biomaterials for vaccination against gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH)”, draws from years of research accumulated at The Mooney Lab located within the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Mooney’s research specialty, the study of mechanisms by which chemical (ex: specific cell adhesion molecules) or mechanical signals (ex: cyclic strain) are sensed by cells and alter their proliferation and specialization to either promote tissue growth or destruction, have resulted in the ability to design and synthesize new biomaterials that regulate the gene expression of interacting cells for a variety of tissue engineering and drug delivery projects.

By controlling over the fate of cells, Mooney and his team eventually developed an implantable cancer vaccine that activates the body’s immune system to attack cancer or infectious disease. Mooney’s team will use the grant award to adapt this existing work into an implantable and injectable vaccine that halts reproduction in dogs and cats by targeting and disrupting a hormone crucial to reproduction in mammals.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is produced in the brain, regulates the release of hormones from the pituitary gland that control reproduction in both male and female animals. Mooney and his team will explore how their various vaccine immunotherapies, which work by recruiting and activating the body’s immune cells to attack specific agents, could be used to target GnRH and produce antibodies against it, halting the reproductive process.

Mooney’s team will use materials already approved by the FDA in new and innovative ways to develop a safe approach for spaying and neutering cats and dogs using a one-time, permanent contraceptive vaccine.

“As a pet owner myself, I’m excited to receive this grant award to help develop technology that could provide nonsurgical spay and neutering methods for dogs and cats,” Mooney said. “An accessible and affordable way to sterilize pets would reduce the number of animals in shelters and prevent a vast number of euthanizations.”

David Mooney examines the body's natural cellular functions in hopes of becoming a very good copycat.David Mooney, Phd. is studying the mechanisms that enable cells to receive and react to chemical and mechanical signals, such as cell adhesion molecules and cyclic strains. These signals carry information that instructs cells to alter their behavior by changing their level of proliferation or area of specialization. By understanding the conditions under which these signals develop, the results of these studies will help David Mooney design new materials and devices that mimic the conditions needed to send specific orders to the body’s cells. (Credit: Peter DiCampo/Harvard News Office).

Immunotherapy is an emerging area of interest in human health and medicine, but the approach is equally as promising for veterinary medicine,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS. “Using a simple and inexpensive vaccination as a way to sterilize animals could greatly reduce the number of animals ending up in shelters and greatly reduce animal suffering.”

In Addition of David Mooney’s research grant, a four-year grant totaling $409,327 was awarded to John Lannutti, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University, for his project, “Electrospun delivery to enhance the effectiveness of anti-fertility strategies.” Dr. Lannutti is a leading expert in the field of electrospinning, a new technology in the biomaterials community.

Overseen by Gary Michelson’s Found Animals Foundation, a non-profit animal welfare organization, the Michelson Prize & Grants in Reproductive Biology [MPG], funded through the generous contributions of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson, is a leader in providing international research grants for the sole purpose of finding a nonsurgical sterilization method for dogs and cats.

Underwritten with a commitment of over $14 million in grant funding, MPG has already led approval on more than 30 projects worldwide and is now entering its seventh year; the highly coveted $25-million Michelson Prize is to be awarded to the scientist who will provide the first effective sterilization product.

In 2014 alone, MPG received its 300th letter of intent, its 100th grant proposal and had five Michelson Grant-funded projects completed: Meenakshi Alreja, PhD, at Yale University (“Targeted ablation of GnRH neurons with a kisspeptin-toxin conjugate: proof of concept in mice”); Cristina Gobello, MV, DVM, DECAR, at the National University of La Plata (“Prepubertal administration of GnRH agonists in domestic cats”); Tatiana Samoylova, PhD, at Auburn University (“Phage-GnRH constructs and their mimics for immunocontraception of cats and dogs”); Auke Schaefers-Okkens, DVM, PhD, at Utrecht University (“Kisspeptin: the endocrinological gatekeeper to reproductive function. A realistic target for non-surgical contraceptive in the dog”); and Kent Van Kampen, DVM, PhD, at Vaxin Inc (“A vectored GnRH contraceptive vaccine to control dog and cat overpopulation”).

Each year in the United States, millions of tax dollars are spent rounding up between six million and eight million homeless, unwanted pets. Ultimately, half of the cats and dogs that end up in shelters are euthanized. Development of a MPG sterilization solution would hugely reduce this number.

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

“We are thrilled that Drs. Lannutti and Mooney have committed to applying their expertise and cutting edge techniques to the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

“We are thrilled that Drs. Lannutti and Mooney have committed to applying their expertise and cutting edge techniques to the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

“We are thrilled that Drs. Lannutti and Mooney have committed to applying their expertise and cutting edge techniques to the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

“We are thrilled that Drs. Lannutti and Mooney have committed to applying their expertise and cutting edge techniques to the search for a single-dose, nonsurgical sterilant for cats and dogs. We look forward to seeing how their research progresses.”

Dr. Gary K. Michelson

References

  1. David Mooney receives grant to develop animal contraceptive vaccine [2015-01-13. Wyss Institute]
  2. David Mooney receives grant to develop animal contraceptive vaccine [2015-01-13. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences]
  3. Engineering with Cells [2005-04-14. Alvin Powell, Harvard University Gazette]
  4. Electrospun delivery to enhance the effectiveness of anti-fertility strategies, John Lannutti, PhD [Michelson Grants, Michelson Prize & Grants]

Related Links

(Updated: 2017-09-27)

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the Michelson Prize & Grants and the Michelson Prize thanks to the generous support of Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the Michelson Prize & Grants and the Michelson Prize thanks to the generous support of Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the Michelson Prize & Grants and the Michelson Prize thanks to the generous support of Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the Michelson Prize & Grants and the Michelson Prize thanks to the generous support of Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.