Fall 2013
Noted biomedical researcher steps forward to fund research

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Maggie Tarrant-Elorza and Mick Hitchcock

Graduate research assistant Maggie Tarrant-Elorza, left, is able to continue her research and career at the School of Medicine thanks to the generous gift from Mick Hitchcock. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas.

Provides gifts to support research assistants

By Roseann Keegan and Anne McMillin, APR

When noted biomedical researcher Michael (Mick) Hitchcock learned that the 2013 federal sequester would affect basic science research funding at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, he wasn't about to sit back and watch it happen.

"I became passionate about the field of research as a graduate student researcher, and I felt strongly that I wanted to help out," said Hitchcock, a senior advisor to bio-pharmaceutical company Gilead.

Having played a key role in developing a groundbreaking HIV drug that provides patients with easier dosing and fewer side effects than its predecessors, Hitchcock reached out to James Kenyon, Ph.D., senior associate dean of research and director of Nevada INBRE, a National Institutes of Health program designed to help traditionally underfunded states build biomedical infrastructure. Hitchcock saw Kenyon speaking on television about the effects of the across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, which went into effect earlier this year.

Frustration turned to action, with Hitchcock quickly establishing the Michael (Mick) J.M. Hitchcock, Ph.D. Fund for Graduate Assistants and the Michael (Mick) J.M. Hitchcock, Ph.D. Fund for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. Both provide bridge funding to the medical school so that undergraduate and graduate students' research may continue.

"It is very generous of Dr. Hitchcock to support graduate work here at the University. Without this funding, I would not be able to continue my research on Human Cytomegalovirus and I would be forced to start over in some other field and essentially negate the last two years of research," said Maggie Tarrant-Elorza, a graduate research assistant with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the first recipient of the fund.

"The gift from Dr. Hitchcock will allow me to follow through with my graduate project studying human cytomegalovirus latency and give me the opportunity to achieve a career as a research scientist."

The gift also helped Tarrant-Elorza travel to the 38th Annual International Herpesvirus Workshop in Grand Rapids, Michigan this summer, where she gave an oral presentation.

My presentation was on my study of a viral protein that is expressed during the latent phase of HCMV and which may constitute a therapeutic target for combating the latent reservoir of HCMV," she said, adding: "HCMV is the number one cause of birth defects in the United States and also the number one cause of complications and morbidity associated with solid organ and bone marrow transplants. Without the Hitchcock funding I would not have been able attend the conference which gave me and my research valuable exposure to other scientists."

Of her invitation to speak at the conference, Hitchcock said: "The fact that she was selected to present speaks to the quality of her work."

Hitchcock has worked for more than 30 years in the biopharmaceutical industry. He spent 12 years at Bristol-Myers Squibb before joining Gilead, where he joined former Bristol colleague John Martin in developing Viread, approved by the FDA in 2001 as a once-daily pill to treat HIV. Before Viread, a reported 90 percent of AIDS patients had to take as many as a dozen pills throughout the day, suffering side effects that included gauntness of the face, anemia and liver damage. Subsequently they developed Atripla, approved in 2006 as the first single-tablet regimen for treatment of HIV that includes the active component of Viread and two other drugs. This simple one-pill once-a-day treatment has become a popular choice for physicians and patients.

"Our researchers and students stand every day on the edge of scientific discovery," said Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

"An interruption to their important work could translate to a significant delay in providing new treatments and methods of care for patients. We are grateful to have found a friend and advocate in Mick."

To learn more about supporting the School of Medicine, please contact Christina Sarman, director of development, (775) 784-6009.