A Fast Company guide to the emerging $13.4B biodesign field

A Fast Company guide to the emerging $13.4B biodesign field

March 17, 2017

  • In just one example of biodesign, a tobacco plant leaf has been used as a factory to produce therapeutics and vaccines to combat infectious diseases around the globe. 


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March 17, 2017

In the latest issue of Fast Company, Meg Miller highlights the important "need to know" efforts of the $13.4 Billion Biodesign Industry. 
Biodesign "will rely on designers as much as scientists," she writes.  While the definition of biodesign is still being shaped because it's a new field, she equates it with synthetic biology, or bioengineering.

From the Fast Company article

WHAT IS BIODESIGN?
Put simply, biodesign is the intersection between biology and design: It’s a growing movement (literally) of scientists, artists, and designers that integrates organic processes and materials into the creation of our buildings, our products, and even our clothing. That can mean, for example, growing a chair out of mycelium, the mushroom fungus that makes for a surprisingly durable material for furniture. It can mean actually altering the DNA of living organisms using genetic engineering techniques, such as with GMO foods. 

Both of those examples are possible because of recent advancements in technology—another important aspect of biodesign. For centuries, people have been designing, controlling, and altering microorganisms—think pasteurization, or even selective breeding. But recent technological advances are raising the stakes. For example, digital design and fabrication tools, like 3D printers, enable Dutch designer Joris Laarman to build a chair modeled after bone tissue development. Advances in biological engineering have allowed synthetic biologists to fabricate leather by culturing collagen protein from animal cells, and genetically alter baker’s yeast to take on a flower’s fragranceBoth of those examples are possible because of recent advancements in technology—another important aspect of biodesign.

For centuries, people have been designing, controlling, and altering microorganisms—think pasteurization, or even selective breeding. But recent technological advances are raising the stakes. For example, digital design and fabrication tools, like 3D printers, enable Dutch designer Joris Laarman to build a chair modeled after bone tissue development. Advances in biological engineering have allowed synthetic biologists to fabricate leather by culturing collagen protein from animal cells, and genetically alter baker’s yeast to take on a flower’s fragrance.

Do you agree with this definition? 

Here at the institute, we are especially proud of our creative scientists' ability to reimagine the nature to accomplish the unexpected. 

From using tobacco plants as “pharming” factories to produce therapeutics, to nanoparticles to detect viruses, to harnessing the power of every individual’s immune system for the early detection of disease, the Biodesign Institute’s platform technologies have gone from early-stage research to now playing a key role in combating nerve agents, Dengue fever, the recent Ebola and Zika epidemics, to spurring a $400 million international health care revolution. 

During the past decade, they’ve given a helping hand to advancing research in HIV/AIDS, SARS and Avian flu. Charles Arntzen has been a pioneer in plant biotechnology and the development of plant-based vaccines and therapeutics for human and animal disease prevention. Arntzen is best known for playing a key role in developing ZMapp, the first successful treatment against the Ebola virus during the largest outbreak in history. 

Below are some other accomplishments. 

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • After Stephen Johnston and Neal Woodbury developed a novel diagnostic technology called immunosignaturing for rapid detection of exposure to infectious disease agents---even before symptoms occur. HealthTell Inc., a spinout company based on the technology, was co- founded by Woodbury and Johnston and focused on early disease detection. HealthTell was selected as the Start-up of the Year at the 2012 Arizona Governor’s Celebration of Innovation, and received more than $40 million in Series B investor funding. 

    The core HealthTell technology can also be used to monitor an individual’s personal health status, and has been used for the early detection of more than 50 diseases from a single drop of blood. Recently, a $400 million investment, the Digital Life Alliance, which includes HealthTell as one of seven core companies, was launched to “merge genetic, biological and patient-generated data with sequencing and AI (artificial intelligence) technology to instantly detect meaningful signals about health, disease and aging, and deliver a personalized guide for living a healthy life,” according to Digital Life Allicance’s Jun Wang.

How do you imagine the field of biodesign will shape the future? What are you most excited about in the near term? Long term? Any concerns about where the science is going? Is there room for biodesign and the creative expression in the arts and humanities? Future policy? And is there an aspect of Biodesign Institute science you always wanted to know more about, or that we aren't yet covering?

Drop me a note, and we will explore it in a future news article or blog post. 

Thanks for reading,

Joe Caspermeyer 

Managing Editor

joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu

 

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer