THE G-20 summit in Pittsburgh naturally dominated the news this past week, but between the cracks some other news illustrated the reason why the city was chosen for this event -- because, in President Barack Obama's words, "it represents the transition of the U.S. economy" into areas such as biotech. On Thursday, the National Institutes of Health awarded a $2.9 million grant to Dr. Eric Lagasse, a liver disease expert and director of the Cancer Stem Cell Center, a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and its Cancer Institute. The five-year grant will fund Dr. Lagasse's research into whether lymph nodes in the human body might one day be used to produce liver cells, pancreas cells and other vital tissues.
ON THE SAME DAY, an NIH grant program for young innovators awarded $1.5 million to Dr. Ipsita Banerjee of the University of Pittsburgh for her research on how embryonic cells change into insulin-producing pancreas cells. As a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, Dr. Banerjee pitched her grant proposal to NIH as a way of bringing an engineer's perspective to the process of how embryonic stem cells change into more specialized cells.
BEFORE WORLD leaders arrived, a famous nonpolitical figure who has helped remake the planet was in town on a mission linked to the new, transformed Pittsburgh. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Inc., was on the Carnegie Mellon University campus Tuesday for the dedication of the Gates Center for Computer Science and the Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies. The architecturally stunning buildings connecting the upper and lower parts of campus will house the School for Computer Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $20 million for the project while the Henry L. Hillman Foundation gave $10 million toward the $98.6 million cost. Exciting things are happening in Pittsburgh -- we can only hope they made an impression on the G-20 delegates.