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Dr. James R. Baker Jr. has been named the Distinguished University Innovator for 2008. Baker, a scientist in the Medical School and a successful entrepreneur, has conducted breakthrough research in nanotechnology materials and launched two startup companies based on the results.
Baker will receive his award April 21 and give a public address on his work at 4 p.m. in the Biomedical Sciences Research Building (BSRB) Auditorium. A reception will follow.
"Professor Baker is an outstanding researcher and innovative thinker in both scientific and entrepreneurial terms," says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. "He also has been a tremendous advocate for thoughtful changes to the University research climate so that more faculty research can see a life beyond the academic realm. I am extremely pleased he has been selected for this award. I especially value his active role in promoting the Michigan Innovation Initiative, a concerted, ongoing campus-wide effort to enhance the entrepreneurial activities of our academic community."
For his own part, Baker is happy to help the University expand its entrepreneurial ways. "I'm pleased to be recognized for my efforts to make progress in my research and then working hard to see these discoveries applied in the real world," Baker says. "But I'm hardly the only one doing this. There are many good researchers on campus involved in similar activities, and I hope even more do so in the future."
Baker's research is in the area of immunology and host defense, evolving into nanomaterials and their applications in medicine. Recently he has been involved in work concerning gene transfer and drug delivery. These studies have produced new vector systems for gene transfer using dendritic polymers, which have the potential to revolutionize pharmaceutical therapy. Baker's work with synthetic lipid and polymeric nanostructures has resulted in the development of nanoemulsions as a new class of antimicrobial agents with activity against bacteria, spores, fungi and viruses.
Baker's nanoemulsion technology became the basis for NanoBio Corporation, which was founded in 2000. The Ann Arbor-based NanoBio is developing treatments for cold sores, nail fungus and mucosal vaccines for Hepatitis B and Influenza. Other products in development target genital herpes, shingles and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Through early 2006 a total of $28 million was invested in the company's NanoStat™ technology platform through grants and angel investments. In August 2006 NanoBio secured an additional $30 million in private equity funding from Perseus LLC, which is being directed toward advancing the clinical programs for the company's lead product candidates.
A second startup, Avidimer Therapeutics, was launched in 2003 by Baker to develop pharmaceuticals formed from dendrimers, nanometer-size polymers that serve as an inert bio-scaffolding. In some applications, therapeutic or diagnostic agents are chemically attached to this scaffolding. In other uses, the dendrimers are modified and serve as the precision guidance system which directs therapeutic add-ons to disease sites, while bypassing healthy tissue.
As applied to cancer, avidimers offer dramatically improved tumor specific delivery, resulting in improvements in both efficacy and safety relative to the corresponding untargeted drugs. Additionally, by incorporating an anti-cancer drug into an avidimer, the drug's distribution in the body can be altered in a controlled manner, potentially broadening its spectrum of activity to include tumor types to which the untargeted drug fails to show activity.
Baker joined the faculty in 1989 and currently is professor of medicine and division chief of allergy and clinical immunology in the Department of Internal Medicine. In 2001 he became a professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering.
In July 1998 Baker was appointed director of the newly organized Center for Biologic Nanotechnology and in 2001 was inaugurated as the first recipient of the Ruth Dow Doan Endowed Professorship in Biologic Nanotechnology. Following the success of the Center for Biologic Nanotechnology, in April 2005, the Board of Regents formed the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences and appointed Baker as its first director.
Based on his distinguished national and international leadership in the field of biologic nanotechnology, he was the first recipient of the Medical School Dean's Innovation Award in October 2001. Baker is a 14-year veteran of service in the U.S. Military, 12 of which were on active duty, including service during Operation Desert Storm.