Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Biomarkers consortium launches website to accept proposals, provide funding updates

[Source: GenomeWeb staff reporter] -- The Biomarkers Consortium today said it has launched a website that can be used to submit biomarker project concepts, to obtain funding information, as a contact point, and for updated news about the consortium’s activities. The consortium is a research partnership managed by the National Institutes of Health and funded by contributing members. It comprises 28 public and private partners including companies, patient advocacy organizations, government groups, and non-profit institutions.

The website provides a way for researchers to submit biomarker project concepts to therapeutic area steering committees. The first three steering committees comprise experts in neuroscience, metabolic disorders, and cancer. A fourth steering committee in inflammation and immunity is being assembled. When approved, concepts are developed into formal project proposals and, when approved by the consortium’s executive committee, the Foundation for NIH will seek the funds to implement them, according to the consortium. To date, more than $6 million has been raised to support the consortium’s lung cancer and lymphoma biomarker projects, the consortium said.

Founded in late 2006, the consortium aims to promote groups looking to accelerate delivery of technologies, medicines, and therapies that can help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat diseases. “In time, we will expand the website’s coverage to include a members-only section, and provide comprehensive information about biomarkers, such as cutting edge research from the scientific and regulatory community,” said Anthony Altar, the consortium’s director.


University of Arizona BIO5 researchers feel the spring in RNA

[Source: Deborah Dawn, Bio5 Institute] -- Researchers from the BIO5 Institute at The University of Arizona have used optical tweezers technology to observe the unraveling of molecular sized helices within individual molecules of messenger RNA. This important class of RNA molecules is the essential connection between the genomic information of the DNA double helix, and the complex 3D structure of the proteins that perform the essential functions of life. This work was performed in the lab of BIO5 member Koen Visscher, PhD, who also holds joint appointments in the departments of physics and molecular and cellular biology.

Using an “optical tweezers,” a device employing laser beams to catch and hold particles only millionths of a meter across, former physics graduate student Yeonee Seol, with assistance from BIO5's Quantitative Biology Consortium postdoctoral research associate Gary Skinner, PhD, applied tiny forces to individual molecules of RNA. The molecules in question, repeated chains of the RNA base “A” or “C,” turned out to adopt a helical shape, and as these molecules were pulled progressively harder and harder, this helix would gradually unwind.

The experimental data was modeled in collaboration with Arnaud Buhot, PhD, and Avraham Halperin, PhD, of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique in Grenoble, France, who successfully developed a mathematical model that accurately predicts how the length of these helical molecules should change as increasing force is applied. From this model, fundamental mechanical and elastic properties of RNA can be accurately measured.

Researchers hope that such quantitative, physical information will assist in the further understanding of the molecular, and mechanical, underpinnings of life. This research appears in the April 13, 2007 issue of Physical Review Letters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

UA announces appointments at College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

The University of Arizona announced several administrative appointments of members of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences executive council. Eugene G. Sander will assume responsibility as acting executive vice president and provost May 28-June 30, 2007, while current provost George H. Davis will be on a well-deserved vacation. Effective July 1, 2007, and until a new provost can assume his or her responsibilities, Sander will be executive vice president and provost. His effective experience as vice president for outreach and dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will serve the University well in his new role. Colin Kaltenbach, currently vice dean, will assume responsibilities as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, effective July 1, 2007 and until Sander returns to his appointment as dean.

Also, Colin Kaltenbach, director of the Agriculture Experiment Station and vice dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the first recipient of the Charles H. Peyton Distinguished Research Administrator Award. The award, given by the UA Office of Vice President for Research, Graduate Studies, and Economic Development, recognizes a UA community member who best exemplifies sustained excellence in research administration. Kaltenbach has played a pivotal role in research administration, serving the University for over 20 years in major research assignments. He is also a leader in national and international research arenas, has served the United States Department of Agriculture in many capacities and recently was awarded the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service Hall of Fame award for his research leadership. He currently serves as president of the International Arid Lands Consortium.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Scientific pioneer named to ASU Biodesign Institute advisory board

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University recently named acclaimed cell biologist James E. Rothman, PhD, to its advisory board. Rothman is a professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University, director and founder of Columbia’s Center for Chemical Biology, and chief scientific advisor and senior advisor for biomedical research at GE Global Research. Known for his pioneer work on cellular transport, Rothman is a recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the King Faisal Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine.

The advisory board is an elite 13-member group chaired by Stephen Benkovic, PhD, who is the Evan Pugh Professor and Eberly Chair in Chemistry for Penn State. Members of the Biodesign Institute Advisory Board provide external reviews of the institute’s research, which helps Biodesign leaders assess its strengths and where improvements are needed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Link between obesity and enlarged heart discovered by UA researchers

New research from The University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center helps explain why excessive body weight increases the risk for heart disease. In the largest study of its kind, cardiologist M. Reza Movahed, MD, PhD, and research specialist Adolfo A. Martinez, MD, discovered that excessive body weight is associated with a thickening of the heart muscle in the left ventricle, the heart's pumping chamber. Known to physicians as left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), the condition potentially can lead to heart failure and rhythm problems. "We observed that the thickening in the muscle wall becomes especially noticeable in obese patients who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater," says Dr. Movahed. "Previous studies have shown that left ventricular hypertrophy is associated with a higher risk of mortality."

Analyzing 17,261 heart ultrasounds, the UA researchers studied moving images of the heart to evaluate structure and function. Results showed that narrowing of the aortic valve, the main valve that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body, was the strongest predictor of LVH, followed by gender and Body Mass Index. While the cause of LVH in obese patients is not known, it may be related to increased work load or to the presence of other cardiac risk factors in these patients.

The findings may guide physicians who study obesity and cardiac function. Drs. Movahed and Martinez presented the results of their study at the 18th Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) in Seattle, Wash. The meeting concludes June 20. "These results are another stake in the ground that supports healthy lifestyles for the benefit of heart protection," says Dr. Movahed. "Maintaining a proportionate BMI may prevent LVH and lead to better heart function."

For more information, contact Daniel Stolte, (520) 626-4083

Statistics GIDP underway at UA

The long tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration at The University of Arizona has paved the way for the new Graduate Interdisciplinary Program (GIDP) in Statistics, according to BIO5 member Walter W. Piegorsch, PhD, a professor in the UA Mathematics Department and newly elected chair of the new GIDP. The program administers master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as a doctoral minor. Plans are underway to also offer a graduate certificate in statistics. Chartering and initial development of the new program was spearheaded by J. Bruce Walsh, PhD, associate head of the UA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a BIO5 member. Dr. Walsh served as the GIDP’s first chair.

Statistics is the 15th GIDP on the UA campus, formed in March 2006 in response to substantial campus need for coordinated, collaborative statistical expertise in support of the UA’s extensive research initiatives, which are data intensive and require interdisciplinary teams of investigators to produce real innovation. The variability of such data -- especially data generated in human studies -- complicates the effort to interpret the underlying phenomena. Incorporating input from statisticians during the early phases of a study's design (in addition to the data collection, analysis, and interpretation phases later in the investigation) can lead to more effective results.

Friday, June 15, 2007

NHGRI Offers Access to Cancer Sequencing Data

Source: GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The National Human Genome Research Institute is granting access to datasets from cancer sequencing projects through open-access and controlled-access programs, NHGRI said yesterday. Researchers will be able to access controlled information from the Medical Sequencing Program by downloading individual-level genotype and assembled DNA-sequence data, NHGRI said.

Most of the data in the open category are available through the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Bioinformatics. DNA sequences may be accessed through the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s trace archive. NHGRI also said it is partnering with the National Cancer Institute on a “comprehensive cancer genome characterization effort,” called the Cancer Genome Atlas and that procedures to access individual-level data for that program will be announced separately.

NHGRI’s Medical Sequencing Program also is supporting investigations of other diseases besides cancer, and data from those studies may be found in the NCBI’s Genotype and Phenotype database.

Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database now available to researchers worldwide

A study reported by scientists at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Phoenix, AZ, and colleagues compared baseline measurements and six-month declines in PET measurements of brain glucose metabolism in people with normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s using data from a national multi-center study. The study found that baseline reductions in the glucose metabolism correlated with clinical severity (AD>MCI>normal) and estimated the number of AD and MCI patients that would be needed to detect putative disease-slowing effects using PET in multi-center clinical trials. These findings were presented at the 2007 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia held in Washington, D.C.

This project is one of several that fall under the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). One of the goals of ADNI, a public-private research partnership organized by the National Institutes of Health, is to reduce the time and expense associated with clinical trials. The ADNI study observes and tracks changes in normal individuals, in people with mild cognitive impairment and in those with Alzheimer’s. ADNI researchers use PET (positron emission tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to track changes in the brain, laboratory analyses of cerebrospinal fluid and blood to study biomarkers, and clinical interviews to track cognitive performance over time. ADNI is expected to improve neuroimaging and biomarker measures and consequently allow faster and more efficient evaluation of potential therapies for Alzheimer’s.

The ADNI is a $60 million, five-year study that began recruiting in early 2006, and today has approximately 800 older people at 58 sites in the United States and Canada participating in the effort. The project is supported primarily by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of NIH, with private sector support from pharmaceutical companies, other organizations and the Alzheimer’s Association through the Foundation for NIH. In addition to NIA, other federal partners are the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, also part of NIH, and the Food and Drug Administration.

An important achievement of ADNI is the creation of a publicly accessible database available to qualified researchers worldwide. The database contains thousands of MRI and PET scan brain images and clinical data and will include biomarker data obtained through blood and cerebrospinal fluid analyses. ADNI includes samples and brain scans from 200 people with Alzheimer’s, 400 people with mild cognitive impairment and 200 healthy people. All volunteers are between ages 55 and 90. Confidentiality of the participants is rigorously protected.

To date, more than 200 researchers have signed up for database access. Investigators may apply for access to ADNI data through the database Web site, In addition, qualified scientists may also ask for access to the cerebrospinal fluid and blood samples. An application form is available under the “Scientist Home Page” link.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

UA receives 925K for new instrumentation

New funds received by The University of Arizona go towards the purchase of a hybrid quadrupole (or linear ion trap) Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer with high-throughput, high-resolution, and high-mass accuracy and equipped with electron capture dissociation and infrared multi-photon dissociation. The goal; to help investigators solve problems that require detailed structural studies of proteins and protein complexes, post-translational protein modifications such as phosphorylation, Valley Fever vaccine candidates, polyamines important in colorectal cancer, and organic tholins of the type produced on Titan, a moon of Saturn.

The award came from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provided $20.65 million for 14 High-End Instrumentation (HEI) grants that will fund cutting-edge equipment required to advance biomedical research. Awarded to research institutions around the country, the one-time grants support the purchase of sophisticated instruments costing more than $750,000.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Three new first-in-class cancer therapies developed at UA

Researchers at The University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute and the Arizona Cancer Center have discovered three new therapies to treat cancer that are considered first in class because of their unique scientific approach. The university has filed patent applications for each of these new drugs. The therapeutics are specifically targeted to attack cancer cells with the advantage of fewer side effects for the patient. For each, the type of target and the type of protein also are unique. This process is part of the drug discovery initiative at BIO5.

Joyce A. Schroeder, PhD, has identified a peptide that significantly suppresses breast cancer metastasis by blocking protein interactions that allow tumor cells to break away from the initial tumor. This first-in-class potential drug not only blocks the spread of the tumor, but shrinks the primary tumor. As a targeted treatment, this should be less toxic to normal, non-cancerous cells while hindering the progression of the disease. The majority of cancer deaths result from the spread of the initial tumor to other sites. Common therapies used today, chemotherapy and radiation, are less effective when metastasis has occurred. They also are quite toxic, damaging normal cells and causing side effects such as nausea and hair loss. There is an overwhelming need for cancer-specific, less toxic treatments such as Dr. Schroeder’s research presents. BIO5 and Dr. Schroeder are looking for partners to develop this potential drug and take it through clinical trials.

Emmanuelle J. Meuillet, PhD, has used computer modeling to develop small molecules that inhibit an enzyme shown to be important in inflammation and cancer. This research has implications for not only cancer patients, but also may have treatment possibilities for patients afflicted with inflammation-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases. These are being designed to avoid the side effects of cox-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx, which were removed from the market. Currently, her lab is conducting preclinical studies and synthesizing several novel classes of drugs that have shown potential to treat colon, breast, pancreatic and brain cancer. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes for Health.

Laurence Hurley, PhD, associate director of BIO5, has embarked on a small molecule drug development project that also targets cancer. Dr. Hurley has identified novel gene structures that control the c-Myc protein expression, a key molecule in promoting cancer cell growth. High levels of c-Myc protein are associated with a significant number of human malignancies. Discovering new cancer drugs is not new for Dr. Hurley. His earlier work on similar gene targets led him to found a company called Cylene Pharmaceuticals, which now has a cancer drug in phase II clinical trials.

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BNI’s Dr. Stephen Macknik receives funding to keep flickering

Dr. Stephen L. Macknik, Ph.D., is the director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute, in Phoenix, AZ. His research interests are to explain the neural underpinnings of visual and olfactory perception in the brain. His primary interest in sensory processing is to understand how networks of neuronal cells in the brain form circuits that allow us to feel aware of our surroundings. His new project, funded by Science Foundation Arizona through its 2007 Competitive Advantage Awards program (120K), builds on these interests by determining the brain correlates of the perception of flicker fusion in the visual system.

CAA grants are designed to give bridge financing to research projects expected to soon receive monies from a federal funding source. In Dr. Macknik’s case, his project was recommended for funding by the review panel at the National Science Foundation in January, but late funding resolutions from Congress left it unfunded. Dr. Macknik will use the CAA grant to keep his project alive and therefore more competitive for the next round of federal grant reviews.

Dr. Macknik promotes public awareness of his and other scientific discoveries by working with several organizations that bring together scientists and the public. He is a founder of the Neural Correlate Society, which hosts the annual Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest (, which is free and open to the public. He also is co-chair of the next meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, to take place in Las Vegas this June ( This conference will host the first scientific event to bring world famous magicians together with cognitive scientists. Magicians have a deep intuition of how to manipulate attention and awareness. This symposium will provide the scientists with the magicians’ insights into the brain, and will promote the application of magic as an experimental tool in the laboratory.

Friday, June 8, 2007

UA Clinical trial for detection of MRSA leads to FDA approval

The University of Arizona’s Infectious Disease Research Core (IDRC) was selected last spring by Cepheid (Sunnyvale, CA) as a clinical trial site for the company’s GeneXpert™ MRSA Assay. IDRC also served as the reference laboratory for the other clinical trial sites across the United States. The assay quickly detects one of the most threatening pathogens in healthcare worldwide – the bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a common cause of skin infections and a variety of other severe infections. A form of MRSA has emerged as a severe public health pathogen, causing outbreaks of severe skin infections in hospitals, day care centers, sports teams, prisons, schools and families.

Cepheid received approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year to market the GeneXpert™ MRSA Assay. FDA approval was obtained quickly for reasons that include scientific method design, method performance, and quality assurance practices as designated by the federal Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations. Screening programs for MRSA are an important part of a total infection control program and are one way to reduce the number of hospital infections. Rapid detection methods such as the GeneXpert™ MRSA Assay have the potential to impact screening strategies aimed at prevention of MRSA transmission.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Research Team Identifies New Alzheimer's Gene

Research Team Identifies New Alzheimer’s Gene

Source: TGen

A study comparing more genetic markers in the DNA of people with and without Alzheimer’s disease than ever before has enabled researchers to identify a common gene that appears to increase a person's risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. The finding, announced today by researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Banner Alzheimer's Institute, Kronos Science Laboratory and their collaborative partners, suggests that the gene - called GAB2 - modifies an individual's risk when associated with other genes, including APOE4. The study results appear in the June 7 issue of the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Neuron.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of disabling memory and thinking problems in older people. The progressive neurological disorder afflicts an estimated 5 million Americans, a number expected to triple by 2050. "We have entered a new era in medical research. Today's technologies permit us to survey a sufficient number of letters throughout the human genome to provide a clearer picture of how life works and ultimately allow better clinical management of patients," said Dr. Dietrich Stephan, Director of TGen's Neurogenomics Division and the paper's senior author, "These new, robust tools may eventually allow us to improve our ability to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, even before it strikes."

To date, the most significant gene found to predispose an individual to late onset Alzheimer's (LOAD) has been APOE4. In this latest study, researchers from seven organizations contributed to the genome-wide scan using Affymetrix microarray technology. The team screened the DNA from 1,400 individuals who had been clinically assessed with Alzheimer's prior death, and simultaneously examined more than 500,000 SNPs or genetic variations to characterize and confirm additional LOAD susceptibility genes. The search revealed GAB2.

Based on the genetics of this and other neuroscientific findings, researchers suggest the healthy form of the GAB2 gene may protect brain cells from developing tangles, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. If the findings are confirmed, this discovery could provide a target for future Alzheimer's therapeutic drugs. "We hope that this study, along with the genome-wide genetics studies to come, will contribute to the clarification of Alzheimer's risk factors and disease mechanisms, the discovery of promising new disease-slowing and prevention therapies, and the identification of patients and at-risk people most likely to benefit from those treatments," said Dr. Eric Reiman, the study's first author and Executive Director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute.

After finding an association between a form of the GAB2 gene and Alzheimer's disease in three separate groups, the researchers showed that the GAB2 gene is unusually active in vulnerable brain cells from Alzheimer's patients and that the GAB2 protein produced by this gene is present in those brain cells containing tangles. When the researchers silenced GAB2 in preliminary studies it increased a molecular process thought to play an important role in the development of tangles. Based on these findings, the researchers hypothesize that GAB2 might function under normal conditions to compensate for the harmful effects of APOE4 and other genes in older people and that the GAB2 risk gene lacks this protective effect.

The study, funded by Kronos Science Laboratory, an affiliate of Phoenix-based Kronos Optimal Health Company, will enable Kronos to develop a test that aids in clinical diagnosis and help determine a person's genetic predisposition for developing Alzheimer’s disease. "This discovery allows us to accelerate the development process for creating a new diagnostic test that is capable of detecting the presence of GAB2, and may ultimately help millions of individuals reach a more informed decision regarding the most appropriate type and timing of treatment," said Dr. Chris Heward, President of Kronos Science Laboratory.

Until recently, researchers lacked the technology to examine the genetic components of a disease at such a high-level of detail. By utilizing the Affymetrix 500K Arrays, the study's researchers rapidly produced a genetic map of each brain tissue sample and isolated the GAB2 gene relatively quickly. "This Alzheimer's disease breakthrough is another powerful example of a fundamental life science discovery made by an Affymetrix customer. Our latest microarray technology continues to accelerate research at an unprecedented pace by enabling scientists to better identify the specific genetic variations associated with complex diseases," said Kevin King, President of Life Sciences Business and Executive Vice President at Affymetrix.

In addition to surveying an unprecedented number of genetic markers in each person's DNA, the researchers capitalized on extremely rigorous criteria to determine whether or not their volunteers had Alzheimer's. For instance, the study included more than 1000 brain donors confirmed to either have Alzheimer's disease or be free of the disorder at autopsy. This study resulted in a comprehensive set of high-quality data to be made publicly available to the research community. The researchers believe that deposition of this data set in the public domain will open a new era in Alzheimer research. When a scientist suspects a particular gene or pathway maybe implicated in Alzheimer's disease, they will use these data to see if there is genetic evidence supporting their idea. Reviewing these data in an hour will permit them to save months of work and thousands of dollars to achieve the same result. Moreover, it paves the way for even more advanced studies using larger sample populations, more powerful array chips that can distinguish more genetic markers, and more sophisticated methods of analyzing the data.

Study participants included TGen, Kronos Science Laboratory, Banner Alzheimer's Institute, Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, the Netherlands Brain Bank, Sun Health Research Institute, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium, and several Alzheimer's Disease Centers supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Aging.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

TGen study identifying alteration in gene associated with uterine cancer lays groundwork for more targeted therapies

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute announced the discovery of previously unrecognized alterations in a gene called FGFR2 in a subset of endometrial cancers, the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States. The mutations in FGFR2 result in uncontrolled cell division, a hallmark of cancer. The findings, reported by TGen and research colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which is part of Cambridge University, and New York University School of Medicine, could accelerate the development of new treatments for endometrial cancer because there are drugs already in clinical trials that inhibit FGFR2 function. The study appears in the May 21, 2007 online version of the journal Oncogene.

Nearly 40,000 women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year, making it the fourth most common cancer found in women, following breast cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. Endometrial cancer usually begins in the lining of the uterus and is most commonly found in women between the ages of 60 and 70. If discovered early, this slow-growing cancer can be successfully treated by surgical removal of the uterus. However, about 7,000 women die each year from the more aggressive form of endometrial cancer.

Researchers at TGen used the latest genome-scanning technology to sequence 187 endometrial tumor samples. The research team identified mutations in FGFR2 in 16% of tumors that represented a specific subset of endometrial cancer. The other types of endometrial cancer did not have these mutations. The FGFR2 gene encodes a protein that plays a critical role in cell growth. In patients with FGFR2 mutations, the tumors were caused by the receptor for this protein being permanently stuck in the "on" position.

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Mayo Clinic - Spread of breast cancer to lungs in asthma patients may be prevented by use of common inhalers

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Arizona suggest there may be a link between asthma and the spread of cancer in breast cancer patients. Importantly, using available inhaler medications could reduce potential metastasis to the lungs in breast cancer patients who have asthma. The study was conducted in mice and supported by examination of breast cancer patient records. The results, according to the researchers, offer a biological link: Activation of cells that line blood vessels is required for the movement of pro-inflammatory white blood cells (which occurs in asthma) and for the movement of circulating cancer cells from the blood into lung tissue.

In the study, mice that were exposed to an allergen commonly used in mouse asthma studies and then injected with melanoma cells were compared to control groups of mice that did not suffer from allergic asthma. The allergen-induced pulmonary inflammation in the asthmatic mice was associated with an almost 400 percent increase in lung metastasis in these animals. But in mice treated with a medication currently available to asthma patients that reduces their lung inflammation (corticosteroids self-administered using hand-held inhalers), the rate of metastasis fell to that seen in mice that were not exposed to an allergen.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Alliance Aims to Boost Biomedicine

Arizona’s bioscience efforts continue to grow through an extensive, statewide collaborative network of initiatives. Now, research capabilities are being allied around the state in a new effort to improve medical diagnostics and human health.

The Arizona Proteomics Alliance (AZPA), a statewide consortium, has been formed to advance the emergent science of proteomics, a science whose broad vision is to understand the biological role of the complete set of proteins in the human body, or proteome. The initiative combines the expertise of nine leading Arizona institutions, including ASU, Banner Health, Barrow Neurological Institute, Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Intrinsic Bioprobes Inc., Mayo Clinic, Sun Health Research Institute, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona (U of A). “This alliance places Arizona in the forefront of proteomics research capabilities and will no doubt have broad impact on biomedical research and personalized medicine,” said Jeff Trent, president and scientific director of TGen.
AZPA promotes a team approach to solving problems of significant biomedical interest, according to Michael Mobley, administrative director of AZPA and associate director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU. The alliance will advance the role of proteomics research in the understanding of human health and disease by creating a network of scientists who share resources and expertise.

“AZPA facilitates access to technical and intellectual resources that are rarely surpassed within the United States, and provides the state with a distinct competitive advantage in this field,” says Serrine Lau, scientific director of AZPA, director of Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the U of A’s College of Pharmacy, and a member of U of A’s BIO5 Institute. “We are pleased that the resources of the Arizona Proteomics Consortium at U of A will be part of this state-wide alliance,” Lau says.

The Mayo Clinic is also expecting to be able to expand its efforts and bring new diagnostic and treatment options to its patients as part of the proteomics initiative, according to Laurence Miller, director of research and the cancer center at the Arizona Mayo Clinic. “The alliance will put Arizona in a stronger position to compete for federal and private research funding,” Mobley says.

The effort builds on the vast knowledge generated by the Human Genome Project, which has mapped roughly 25,000 genes. Each gene codes for the production of protein, but with all the modifications possible to both the gene transcript and protein, the human body could have well over a million different proteins, according to the Human Proteome Initiative. This entourage of proteins, the proteome, is ultimately responsible for everything, good or bad, related to human health and disease. Developing tests to rapidly obtain protein profiles as a predictive marker for disease or identifying therapeutic targets benefit health care and medicine.

Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development at U of A, said that the pooling of technologies statewide would allow researchers to maximize capabilities and minimize costs in a field that requires the development of new research methods. For example, this collaborative effort is expected to foster an expansion of the cancer research initiative at Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, says Susan Edwards, president of the Arizona region for Banner Health. A unifying research approach within the alliance is “integrative proteomics,” which involves advancing the processes, methods and technologies that elucidate the role of proteins within an integrated understanding of human biology, according to Mark Hayes, director of Arizona Applied NanoSensors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. “This means developing proteomics research capabilities so that they are complementary to other advancing fields like genomics, bioinformatics and clinical research,” says Hayes, who was an early champion for the expansion of regional proteomics and the formation of this alliance.

The alliance has just launched a Web site ( where researchers can exchange information about resources and the important problems they are working together to solve. “Collaboration is one of the things that sets Arizona science apart from other states, where competition is more often the rule,” says Joseph Rogers, president and senior scientist of the Sun Health Research Institute. The important partnerships formed in proteomics are expected to not only expand research efforts and improve chances for greater funding, but also to promote the future recruitment and training of talented individuals for the field of health care in Arizona.