Dr. Wolfgang Heubisch, Federal State Minister of the Bavarian State Ministry of Science, Research and Arts visited Jupiter recently to tour the Max Planck Florida Institute. Joining him were the leaders of some of the most prestigious universities in Germany, including the Technical University of Munich; Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nuremberg; and the University of Würzburg. In addition, Dr. Heubisch was accompanied by the Managing Directors of BioM Cluster Management and the Medical Valley of the European Metropol Region Nuremberg.
After the tour, the group participated in a roundtable discussion about politics, scientific innovation and the life sciences in Bavaria and Florida with Dr. Herbert Jäckle, vice president of the Max Planck Society in Germany; Chancellor Frank Brogan of the State University System of Florida; Board of Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus; Dr. Mary Jane Saunders, president of Florida Atlantic University; David Day, director of the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing; and Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Claudia Hillinger, vice president of Institute Development for the Max Planck Florida Institute.
This was the first meeting of its kind between the representatives of Bavaria and Florida, and both agreed that they are going in a similar direction in terms of investing in the sciences. Discussions focused on educational outreach for students and exchange programs aimed at fostering scientific careers; collaborations in the fields of medical devices and personalized medicine; and tech transfer, patents and commercialization.
Minister Heubisch emphasized the special importance of the strategic partnership between Bavaria and Florida.
“Bavaria is one of the top three biotech centers in Europe,” he said. “There is a direct correlation between our thriving economic environment and the work being done in our research institutes. They have provided opportunities for our workforce, our students and our communities. Science has been the key to our success. Innovation in biotech needs strong partners and Bavaria is open to collaborate with Florida.”
Florida anticipates a similar track. The state has invested $766 million to bring high-profile life science organizations to the state, with matching funds from the counties, universities cities and other sources. Three of its largest counties – Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade – are also working on a collaboration to market the stretch of highway that connects these regions as the “I-95 Life Science Corridor.” The strategy is to capitalize on the strength of the major universities and biotech companies in these areas to attract worldwide recognition and future investment.
“We are attracting a brain trust, good scientists who are able to compete for grants,” said Jäckle. “These young, educated people will start their own companies in collaboration with Max Planck, there will be many benefits and payoffs as these companies grow. This is what will create 1,000 to 2,000 jobs in this area.”
“The State University System is proud to be a partner in these critical pursuits, both overall and in support of Florida Atlantic University’s hard work to date, in this particular case,” Brogan said. “Our 11 public universities statewide will continue to build a knowledge-based, high-wage, high-skill economic portfolio – what we term the ‘New Florida Initiative’ – that is more diverse and more sustainable for Florida’s future.”
The participants agreed to continue the dialogue to develop joint initiatives and deepen existing relationships. Minister Heubisch invited the participants of the symposium to visit Bavaria in the future.
The Max Planck Florida Institute is currently operating in a 40,000-square-foot temporary facility with 37 employees, including 16 research staff and eight scientific support staff on FAU’s MacArthur Campus in Jupiter. Nearly 60 percent of the staff were hired from either Palm Beach County or other parts of Florida.
The organization has a wide scope of scientific research underway. The Digital Neuroanatomy Group, under the direction of 1991 Nobel Laureate in Medicine Dr. Bert Sakmann, is conducting a program dedicated to creating a three-dimensional map of the normal brain. The Molecular Neurobiology Group, under the direction of Dr. Samuel M. Young, Jr. is studying synapses – the point-to-point connections between neurons in the brain – by combining the most advanced optical, electrophysiological and molecular techniques to uncover the molecular mechanisms of how they operate. Dr. Jason Christie is also studying synapses with a particular focus on how the strength of individual synapses can change when used repeatedly. Dr. James Schummers begins his research later this month. His focus is on the functional organization of the cortex – the convoluted outer “shell” of the brain, which is responsible for many brain functions, including sensory perception, motor control and higher cognitive functions. Collectively, these research approaches will provide fundamental impulses that can open up new technological possibilities in medical diagnostics and care for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, mental retardation and others.
Max Planck Florida Institute broke ground on their new 100,000-square-foot biomedical facility in June. The permanent biomedical research center and laboratories is expected to be completed by early 2012. For more information, visit www.maxplanckflorida.org.