Moving answers faster from lab to life

There is no question that health care in the 21st century will move from a population-based approach to highly personalized medicine. Your DNA, your microbiome, your brain functioning is unlike any other. Treating disease with the methods that work for the masses is no longer our only option. With recent giant leaps in understanding how proteins work, mapping the human genome and plotting the gut microbiome, new information is now at our fingertips; new information that will lead to earlier detection of disease, precision treatments and even cures. It will also lead to custom-fitted solutions. That’s where the Biodesign approach takes hold – and fast.

Currently, more than 5.7 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. This has profound implications for Arizona, with a population of more than 1,000,000 people over age 65 living today, expected to expand to 24,000,000 million by 2050. Recently, we joined forces with the world famous neuroscientists at Sun Banner Research Institute in order to work faster for answers to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Today, these neuroscientists are surrounded by new tools and new ideas from biologists, geneticists, engineers and technologists; all eager to crack the mysteries of human aging and neuro-debilitation. Already, we’re on to a diagnostic that will detect the onset of Alzheimer’s at a very early age.

We are also focused on diseases of the very young. Recently, a team of scientists from the Biodesign Institute and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering discovered a new method for treating the symptoms of autism by improving the gut microbiome through fecal microbial transplants. The initial clinical trial involved only 18 participants. The team is currently seeking funding for the larger scale research that will enable progress toward FDA approval.

It was a team of researchers at the Biodesign Institute that created the treatment for two Americans struck with Ebola in Nigeria. An enterprising botanist named Charles Arntzen found his answer in an unlikely place – a killer plant called tobacco became a manufacturing plant for this life-saving serum. The search for answers to identifying, treating and stopping infectious diseases across the planet is one focus of the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy.

In a move that will change the face of medicine as we know it, Biodesign scientists are miniaturizing a potent technology designed to reveal the inner mechanisms of proteins. Once understood, we will have the key to all and every disease. Unfortunately, there’s an incorrigible traffic jam: with only a few X-ray electron lasers in the world, scientists must compete for limited time to conduct their experiments. In the basement of the new Biodesign Institute C building, chemists, engineers and physicists are working together to build a miniature version of what is currently an instrument the size of a football field. With success, researchers all over the world will have access to this affordable option, and together can pursue cures for disease and new forms of energy.

In an effort to become a global hub for research and discovery and advance medical research that promises to save lives and vastly improve the quality of life for people who struggle with debilitating diseases like high blood pressure, stroke or cystic fibrosis, Biodesign researchers are seeking $20 million to build the world’s first compact X-ray free electron laser, which will further enhance ASU’s reputation as the nation’s most innovative research university.