Prominent scientists named to lead ASU Biodesign Institute Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology

Prominent scientists named to lead ASU Biodesign Institute Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology

January 22, 2016

January 22, 2016

Charles Arntzen, a researcher who discovered a method for producing an Ebola treatment in a tobacco plant, and Cheryl Nickerson, a microbiologist who discovered that mechanical cues can globally reprogram how pathogens cause disease, have been named to lead the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology as interim co-directors.

The Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, one of 15 research centers at the growing Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, is dedicated to finding innovative strategies to protect people against infectious diseases caused by pathogens like Ebola, HIV, salmonella, mycobacterium, and norovirus. Infectious diseases account for more than one-third of the world’s deaths and are the No. 1 killer of children and young adults globally.

"Accomplished and wise leadership is essential to maintaining our pace and progress toward halting disease and human suffering,” said Raymond DuBois, Biodesign executive director. DuBois and Biodesign’s new interim executive director, Joshua LaBaer, identified Arntzen and Nickerson as the best candidates to lead the university’s highly accomplished infectious disease researchers as interim co-directors until a new director is named. Roy Curtiss III, the center’s former director, assumed a professorship at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in spring 2015.

“Just as our research crosses all boundaries of science and engineering, our leaders work collaboratively to propel our nearly 600 scientists to find new solutions for disease and environmental threats,” said LaBaer. “I look forward to the energy and insights that Cheryl and Charlie will bring to the Biodesign leadership team.”

A plant biologist, ASU Regents’ professor and National Academy member, Arntzen was the founding director of the Biodesign Institute and is widely recognized as a leading expert in plant-derived pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Arntzen uses his experience in plant biotechnology in order to advise the National Academy of Sciences, other government agencies and corporate entities on the strategic use of new technology in agriculture and human health programs. Arntzen has been with ASU since 2000, when he was appointed the Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair. Last year, Fast Company magazine named Arntzen the world’s most creative person in business.

A microbiologist and tissue engineer, Nickerson joined the Biodesign Institute in 2006. Nickerson’s research takes a highly multidisciplinary and innovative approach that combines microbiology, tissue engineering and physics to mimic complex interactions between the host, its microenvironment, and the pathogen that lead to infectious disease.  This includes the development of 3-D tissue-like models that closely mimic the functionality of tissues in the body and their application as human surrogates for infectious disease research.

Her experiments have flown on numerous NASA Shuttle and SpaceX missions to the International Space Station. In 2011, Nickerson was awarded the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, NASA’s most prestigious commendation for outstanding contributions to science. In 2014, she was named editor-in-chief of the Nature Publishing Group journal, npj Microgravity, an open-access journal that is dedicated to publishing the most important scientific advances in the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering fields that are facilitated by spaceflight and analog platforms. 

Both Arntzen and Nickerson are professors at ASU’s School of Life Sciences.