The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University: Hundreds of researchers pursuing solutions to life’s problems through the physical and life sciences; questioning and learning — and growing our next generation of explorers and discoverers.
The success of our work relies in part on support and investments from like-minded organizations and individuals. Join us as we work to improve health, protect lives and sustain our planet.
Can ‘open science’ accelerate cures?
Joshua LaBaer leads a multidisciplinary team at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics in a large-scale effort to discover and validate unique molecular fingerprints of disease. These fingerprints, called biomarkers, can provide an early warning for those at risk of major illnesses. LaBaer is co-inventor of a technology that serves as the molecular toolkit for his approach.
LaBaer is one of the worlds’ foremost researchers in the area of personalized medicine. His work in a new field of science called proteomics is making major strides in cancer research, as well as diabetes and infectious diseases. LaBaer’s research team has identified a panel of 28 new biomarkers that may aid in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. These biomarkers are important in breast cancer tumor biology and pathology, as well as drug resistance to leading treatments.
LaBaer believes that these biomarkers will lead to blood tests for the early detection of breast cancer, potentially catching breast cancer earlier and saving thousands of lives each year.
Blasting open the doors to discovery with an eye to wider collaboration and faster answers, LaBaer’s team has created a unique, worldwide research library called DNASU. This open access, web-based library of DNA samples represents more than 750 organisms. Housed in a million-dollar custom robotic freezer, the gene library is the only one of its kind in the southwestern United States. More than 275,000 plasmid clones have been distributed to 550 labs in 35 countries, bringing the global research community closer together – and ultimately, closer to cures.
Can our immune system give us an earlier warning?
At Biodesign’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, oncologist and researcher Karen Anderson is looking for ways to diagnose cancer quickly, easily and with less cost.
Her focus is on combing the immune system for early warning beacons of cancer, known as biomarkers. Leveraging the body’s immune system to target and fight cancer — a strategy known as immunotherapy — holds enormous promise for treating many cancers. But, real advances in immunotherapy are currently limited by the mysteries of immune system regulation and how to promote effective immune responses.
Anderson’s group of researchers already has identified novel biomarkers for the detection of breast, ovarian and human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers. Her focus on investigating how tumors develop aims to identify clinical targets for cancer therapeutics and immunotherapy for solid tumors. In partnership with Mayo Clinic Arizona, Anderson is studying cells derived from patients undergoing surgery for breast and ovarian cancer.
In addition, Anderson’s work has been pivotal in the launch of the new International School of Biomedical Diagnostics – an ASU partnership with Dublin City University. Through this work, Anderson and her colleagues are building on recent advances in areas such as nanotechnology and DNA sequencing to develop cancer treatments that can be more precise, more personalized and tailored to the individual patient. Each year, billions of dollars are spent on drugs and therapies that only work for a few patients, some of the time. Anderson’s work aims to change that.
With Dublin City researcher Jens Ducreé, Anderson is helping develop a “lab-on-a-disk,” a point-of-care device that has the potential to detect cancer easier, faster and for a fraction of the cost.
Can sewers become a new pipeline to measure the health of a city?
Lurking beneath every city in America is the backbone of the modern sanitation system: sewers. This yuck factor streams with every toilet flush, out of our homes to wastewater treatment plants. Now, with an array of new tools, Rolf Halden has built a new pipedream: the first nationwide monitoring network, called the Human Health Observatory. From thousands of sewer samples, their technology tool -----state-of-the-art mass spectrometry----has measured some 230 chemicals to date contained in wastewater that can serve as a proxy to gauge the health pulse of a city.
The beauty of this wastewater-based analysis strategy is that it can be performed on differing scales, from buildings to city blocks to neighborhoods or the nation as whole.
Today, Halden’s research team has information on the chemistry used by and contained in 10 percent of the U.S. population, some 32 million people residing in over 160 cities across the nation. The tools are sensitive enough to measure a spike in illicit drug consumption from weekend rock festivals to birth control pills to emerging public health threats.
Their clients, or patients, are the cities rather than individuals. And the sewage never lies. It’s giving real information on what’s happening and provides an entry point for health interventions that can save lives by the thousands. Halden envisions that the sewage pipeline can become an information superhighway of all the public health data of a city---a treasure trove of information all coming from human waste.
Initially representing a national effort, Halden’s team is now expanding its investigations to include international metropolises around the world. They want to develop a dashboard of public health for the United States, and ultimately the world. Finally, they will compare how different regulatory environments lead to different chemistries and different exposure and health profiles.
What if we could prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
ASU scientist and Banner Health physician Eric Reiman has seen the curse, firsthand; la bobera, or the “foolishness,” it is called. An extended family in Medellin, Colombia, is fated with a genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s, often in individuals in their early 30s or 40s.
Now, Reiman wants to usher in a new era in Alzheimer’s prevention research, to stop it before it starts to rob young minds of their livelihood. This groundbreaking Alzheimer’s prevention clinical trial, the Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer's Disease (ADAD) Trial involves approximately 300 members of an extended family in Colombia, South America.
The ADAD trial focuses on whether an "anti‐amyloid” antibody treatment called crenezumab can stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid – a sticky deposit that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease – is thought by many researchers to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. If we could give a drug early on, Reiman may just revolutionize the way we treat and prevent Alzheimer’s.
How do we stop the world’s No. 1 killer?
Despite a century of progress, infectious diseases are still the world’s leading cause of death, particularly for the very young and old. The list of recent germs threatening human health across the globe reads like a World Health Organization’s most-wanted list: HIV, SARS, Avian flu, Swine flu, Ebola and now, Zika.
Everywhere there are people, germs are certain to follow. And diseases know no borders or passports, and can quickly spread in our increasingly connected world---even to outer space.
That’s why the infectious disease scientists at Biodesign are ever vigilant to help us better understand and prepare to meet the next emergent threat. Charlie Arntzen, Qiang “Shawn” Chen, Tsafrir Mor, Hugh Mason and others are pioneers in plant-based vaccines and therapeutics. Collectively, they teamed up to develop the first experimental therapeutic against Ebola. Virologists Bertram Jacobs and Brenda Hogue work on new vaccine candidates for HIV and SARS. Shelley Haydel is in pursuit of novel treatments to halt the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Joe Blattman is an immunologist who studies how the immune system responds to vaccination and viral infection. Cheryl Nickerson uses the out of this world platform of the International Space Station to unmask bacteria infections, to better protect astronauts from the long-term effects of exploring our solar system, and translate those discoveries back here on Earth.
In the quest to stay one step ahead of emerging threats, they are pushing the boundaries of infectious disease research.