Lab director Joshua LaBaer smiles with two students in the lab. All three are wearing lab coats and goggles and are holding vials and pipettes.

To best manage patients, personalized medicine rests on two broad and equally important pillars. First, it relies on novel therapeutics that are tailored to treat the specific molecular causes of each individual disease. Academic and pharmaceutical company laboratories are working hard at defining these individual pathways. Second, diagnostic tests are needed to quickly identify the specific disease an individual has and which treatment is appropriate. The two approaches are mutually dependent. A specific therapy only makes sense if there is a test to tell patients if they will benefit from it.

What we do

Broadly, our laboratory is interested in using a multidisciplinary approach to discovering new tools that will help advance the cause of personalized medicine. The completion of the human genome project signaled the start of a dramatic acceleration in the pace of biological research.

We base our work in the high throughput study of proteins, a next generation field called proteomics. Proteins provide the verbs to biology; they are its engines and its bricks and mortar. Most human disease is the result of protein dysfunction and nearly all drugs either act through proteins or are themselves proteins.

FLEXGene Repository

We initiated a project to create a sequence-verified collection of full-length cDNAs representing all coding regions for the human and several model organisms in a vector system that is protein expression-ready. By using a recombination-based vector system, users are able to execute the automated transfer of thousands of genes into any protein expression vector overnight. This repository, called the FLEXGene Repository (for Full-Length Expression-ready), enables the high-throughput screening of protein function for the entire set (or any customized subset) of human genes using any method of in vitro or in vivo expression. Our FLEXGene Repository has been built using an “open source” technology and is available to all biologists through the DNASU Plasmid Repository.

Better patient care

Our projects engage a wide range of tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, software engineering, informatics, medicine, chemical engineering, cell biology, database development, and robotics in order to understand the functions of proteins and how they dysfunction in disease. Our strategy promises not only to improve therapeutic care by ensuring that patients are treated with right medicine for them, but also to greatly reduce the unnecessary side effects, the cost and the lost time of treating patients with therapies that are unlikely to be successful.

Areas of investigation

  • Cancers of the breast, lung, ovary, cervix, colon, stomach and pancreas.
  • Infectious diseases, including viral, bacterial and fungal types.
  • Autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, inflammatory joint diseases and post-transplant diseases.
  • Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
  • Injuries, including wound healing and spinal cord injury.


  • The world’s largest collection of full-length genes for humans and other model organisms and pathogens.
  •  Methods for displaying all of the proteins of an organism.
  • High-throughput methods to detect genes targeted by miRNAs.
  • Methods to isolate and sequence transcriptomes and miRNAomes from unique tissue types from model organisms.
  • Analytic methods for examining genome-wide gene expression, epigenomic changes and post-transcriptional processing.
  • Biostatistical methods for evaluating big data.

Support the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics

Developing new diagnostic tools to pinpoint the molecular manifestations of disease based on individual patient profiles.