The accomplishments highlighted demonstrate the Biodesign Institute’s substantial success as a cornerstone of Arizona State University’s strategy to propel ASU into the top tier of the world’s research universities.

The State of Arizona and ASU’s administration have received a significant return on their investments in the Institute, generous backing that served as the key catalyst in advancing Biodesign’s goal of becoming a world-class, entrepreneurial research enterprise to improve human health and the health and security of our planet.

Recent accolades and honors for academic year 2015-16

  • The Space-X Dragon spacecraft carried the tiny nematode worm C. elegans into low earth orbit for Cheryl Nickerson’s investigations of bacterial infection in reduced gravity.
  • A feature story in Science highlighted Rolf Halden’s research demonstrating that millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and other precious metals persist in sewer sludge.
  • Birds of a feather flocked to rural villages in Uganda, thanks to Jagdev Sharma, whose hybrid Kuroiler chicken project has brought hope to impoverished areas in Africa.
  • In research appearing in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, Petra Fromme used femtosecond X-ray crystallography to probe the detailed structure of opiate receptors and synthetic drugs that bind with these sites.
  • Carlo Maley applied evolutionary investigations into species extinction events to propose means of driving cancer to extinction in a paper appearing in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
  • Josh LaBaer and Karen Anderson identified three promising autoantibody biomarker candidates for ovarian cancer, reporting their findings in the Journal of Proteome Research. (Anderson was named Healthcare Hero and presented with the top doctor honor, the 2015 Physician Award by the Phoenix Business Journal)
  • In research appearing in the journal Nature Chemistry, Ximin He and her colleagues describe a method capable of mimicking Nature’s ability to sort, capture, transport and release molecules relevant to human and environmental health.
  • NJ Tao and his colleagues unveiled a new mechanism of charge transport that differs from the two recognized patterns in which charge either tunnels or hops along bases of the DNA chain, describing the unusual behavior in Nature Chemistry.
  • Arizona State University Regents' Professor John Spence has been elected as a Fellow of the UK Royal Society, a fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists. 
  • A year of impressive distinctions bestowed on Biodesign co-founder and ebola researcher Charlie Arntzen, who won the Judges Award for the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation, was named Fast Company’s Most Creative Person in Business and Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and honored as the inaugural Rodale 100 recipient.
  • Athena Aktipis prepared a “cheat sheet” describing how cancer cells violate the five foundations of multicellularity. Her contributions were part of an interdisciplinary,  multi-institute research project for the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. The work was the focus of an article in the NY Times.
  • In research supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Joseph Blattmann modeled the functioning and exhaustion of CD8 T-cells in response to viral infection by lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).
  • Using new tricks of the trade, Hao Yan describes nanoscale architectural forms including star shapes, elaborate tiling patters, 8-fold quasicrystalline shapes, fishnet arrays, flower and bird designs and an Archimedean solid with 60 edges, 24 vertices and 38 faces—constructed with DNA origami technique. The research appeared in Nature Nanotechnology.
  • In widely publicized research, Carlo Maley deciphered a key ingredient responsible for Peto’s paradox, showing that the impressive cancer-fighting ability of elephants is due to multiple copies of the cancer-suppressing gene p53.
  • Coming soon to building C: a free electron laser reduced from several miles in length to benchtop size, thanks to path breaking research by William Graves. When the instrument is complete, it will cause a paradigm shift in fields as diverse as protein structure investigation, leading edge medical imaging, oil exploration and even painting analysis.
  • In work appearing in Science Advances, NJ Tao and his colleagues describe a new method for examining small molecules and their communication with membrane proteins. The research will allow scientists and clinicians to study these interactions at an astonishingly minute scale with unprecedented precision.
  • In research appearing in the Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports, Debra Hansen outlined an innovative means of investigating membrane proteins produced by a pair of highly pathogenic organisms. Her team showed that DNA-based genetic immunization—using a device known as a gene gun—could successfully express membrane proteins in mice and induce the animals to produce a range of critical antibodies to bacterial and viral targets.
  • Mischievous fetal cells can migrate from the placenta, affecting maternal health for both good and ill, as Athena Aktipis (along with Angelo Fortunato, Melissa Wilson Sayres and Amy Boddy) describe in a much-publicized study in the journal Bioessays.
  • Rolf Halden showed off the IS2B, a mobile laboratory capable of performing precision analysis of sampled water and sediment. In research appearing in the Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports, Halden analyzed halogenated chemicals known as fiproles, which have been linked with environmental hazards and may be involved in the collapse of honeybee colonies.
  • In a study appearing in ACS Chem Neuroscience, Biodesign NDRC members Diego Mastroeni and Paul Coleman teamed up with Sid Hecht to investigate novel antioxidant compounds that may reverse the effects of amyloid beta on mitochondrial function in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Bad news in Brooklyn: Rolf Halden examined cord blood samples from pregnant women in Brooklyn and found the highest worldwide levels of paraben chemicals, which are used in cosmetics. The study appeared in the journal  Environment International.
  • Stephen Johnston described a technique for leveraging the diagnostic power of the human immune system for the detection of pediatric brain cancer. The work is supported by the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure), organizations working together to fund the development of immunosignature-based blood tests for detecting, classifying and monitoring pediatric medulloblastoma.
  • Under a grant from the Department of Energy, Bruce Rittmann and physicist Klaus Lackner explore new ways of supplying microalgae with CO2 in order to boost production. The photosynthetic organisms are useful for biofuels and a broad range of consumer products.
  • Stephen Johnston and Neal Woodbury’s spinout company HealthTell recently completed a $40 million capital campaign and is poised to enter the big leagues as “one of the top 5 startups to watch” in the highly competitive health care diagnostics arena. The technology allows a detailed portrait of the body’s immune response to be generated from a tiny sample of blood.
  • In the journal Genome Research, Melissa Wilson-Sayres described an extreme reduction of males occurring some 4-8000 years ago without a corresponding drop in female populations. The accumulation of wealth and power following the onset of agriculture seems to have played a greater role in reproductive success than survival of the fittest.
  • Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) celebrated a record-breaking year of inventions, patents and start-ups, including  Stuart Lindsay and Peiming Zhang, who developed  a next-generation DNA sequencer based on carbon nanotube technology, and along with Brian Ashcroft, founded a new start-up called Recognition Analytix LLC; and Tsafrir Mor, who used plants to produce a new therapeutic, called human butyrylcholinesterase, that can rapidly reverse paralysis of the airways (or apnea) caused by succinylcholine.
  • Genetics researcher Marco Mangione has assembled the first working catalog of the non-coding regions found at the ends of genes. Known as untranslated regions or UTRs they are believed to subtly regulate gene function. He described the new resource for the international scientific community in a paper appearing in BMC Genomics. 
  • Thanks to John Spence and others, ASU—already an outstanding leader in atomic resolution electron microscopy—is about to add another jewel to its crown, when a Cryo-electron microscopy facility is installed this summer. The instrument can image biological molecules in astounding detail at the atomic scale.
  • X-ray crystallography took another major step forward with a pioneering new technique that uses continuous diffraction to extract much more information from imperfectly ordered crystals. Petra Fromme and colleagues used the method to home in on photosystem II, the protein complex responsible for photosynthesis, describing their results in the journal Nature.