Tag Archives: BIO5

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UA Researchers Earn Flinn Foundation Grant

University of Arizona researchers have been awarded a $200,000 two-year seed grant by the Flinn Foundation through its Promoting Translational Research in Precision Medicine grants program to define the pulmonary virome and the role of Cytomegalovirus (CMV) persistence in the lung. The goal of this program is to foster collaborative efforts between physician-scientists and bench researchers in order to translate findings more rapidly to actual patient treatments.

The unique research team consists of UA Associate Professor of Medicine Ken Knox, MD, who specializes in pulmonary medicine and has a strong track record in clinical/translational research; UA associate professor of immunobiology, BIO5 member and biomedical researcher, Felicia Goodrum, PhD, who is an expert in CMV persistence; and UA associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and BIO5 member, Matthew Sullivan, PhD, an expert in viral metagenomics.

“Translational research—moving discoveries from the lab to patient care—is a crucial element of precision, or personalized, medicine as well Arizona’s bioscience strategy,” said Jack B. Jewett, Flinn Foundation president and CEO. “This exciting collaboration among Drs. Knox, Goodrum and Sullivan is an outstanding example of a potentially groundbreaking research project that could ultimately yield great benefits to human health.”

As a privately endowed, philanthropic organization, the Flinn Foundation is committed to improving the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations.

The human body is home to a vast number of bacteria, viruses and fungi that collectively make up the human microbiome. Much of our microbiome does not cause disease, but rather is critically important to maintaining human health. Recent studies in humans document the enormous impact bacteria have on normal health (e.g., obesity), disease states (e.g., diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders), and even behavior. The role of viruses, by contrast, represents uncharted frontiers for study.

Persistent viruses represent emerging health threats that contribute to chronic inflammation, cellular stress and cancer risk. In addition, latent viral coexistence is just beginning to emerge in association with age-related pathologies, including atherosclerosis, immune senescence and frailty. Health costs of persistent viral infections, whether chronic or latent, can be significant.

Drs. Knox, Goodrum and Sullivan will study CMV as a model of persistent viral infection upon which questions related to how to specifically prevent lung infections can be based. Manifestations of a disease state are influenced by how background host genetic traits drive immunological responses that interact with invading viruses. By using advanced informatics to analyze metagenomic data sets from the study, the team will investigate correlations between the presence of human CMV and the background virome.

Human CMV is one of eight human herpes viruses that infects 60-90 percent of the population worldwide and, like all herpes viruses, persists in the infected host indefinitely by way of a latent infection. CMV’s primary infection of healthy individuals is typically asymptomatic and, therefore, goes completely unnoticed. When CMV is reactivated from latency to an active state of replication, there are life-threatening disease risks in immunocompromised individuals, including transplant and cancer patients. CMV infection is also the leading cause of infectious disease-related birth defects, affecting 1 percent of live births in the United States.

Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, MD, PhD, Bowman Professor and head, UA Department of Immunobiology, said, “This study is extremely important and timely, as known- and yet-to-be discovered viruses are undoubtedly influencing human health and contributing to disease states.”

Fernando Martinez, MD, UA Regents’ Professor and director of both the Arizona Respiratory Center and the BIO5 Institute, agreed, adding, “Defining the viruses present in the human lung will be an important step in expanding our knowledge base of the pulmonary virome. In addition, techniques used to identify viruses hold promise for rapid diagnostics and treatments.”

Other members of the study team (photo) at UA include PhD candidates Katie Caviness and Ann Gregory, senior research scientist Bonnie Poulos, Heidi Erickson, RN, and Lance Nesbit, MS. The current study also will examine viral reservoirs in the context of lung transplant and thus is likely to have broad implications for our understanding of pulmonary immunity and rejection.

The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics, devices and promising new therapies. Learn more at BIO5.org.

bioscience

Renowned Bioinformatician Joins UA

Yves A. Lussier, MD, FAMCI, a professional engineer and physician-scientist who conducts research in translational bioinformatics and personal genomics, has joined the Arizona Health Sciences Center at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Lussier will serve as UA professor of medicine; associate vice president for health sciences and chief knowledge officer for AHSC; associate director for cancer informatics and precision health for the University of Arizona Cancer Center; and associate director, BIO5 informatics, for the UA BIO5 Institute. He assumed his new duties Dec. 2.

Dr. Lussier is an international expert in translational bioinformatics and a pioneer in research informatics techniques including systems biology, data representation through ontologies and high-throughput methods in personalized medicine. At the UA, he will lead efforts to fully develop novel programs in biomedical informatics, computational genomics and precision health. Dr. Lussier will provide critical leadership in efforts to advance precision health approaches to health outcomes and healthcare delivery and in the development of big data analytical tools and resource services in support of the University’s clinical research and service missions.

“I’m extremely pleased to have Yves join the University of Arizona,” said Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, MD, UA senior vice president for health sciences. “Yves and his team of computational specialists bring much needed expertise and program capacity in informatics, sequence analysis, genomic annotation and computational biology that will accelerate translational research activity across campus and throughout the state.”

Anne E. Cress, PhD, interim director of the UA Cancer Center, noted that “the integration of genomics with clinical information is the key to innovative approaches to provide ‘tomorrow’s medicine today’ for cancer patients. The addition of Dr. Lussier to the Cancer Center will greatly strengthen our clinical research efforts in cancer informatics and the delivery of personalized treatment plans.”

Fernando D. Martinez, MD, director of the UA BIO5 Institute, shared his enthusiasm for Dr. Lussier’s recruitment. “Informatics bridges the five core disciplines – agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science – of BIO5. Dr. Lussier and his team will advance the Institute’s interdisciplinary, collaborative research efforts to successfully create solutions to the grand biological challenges.”

Dr. Lussier comes to UA from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he was professor of medicine, bioengineering and biopharmaceutical sciences, and assistant vice president for health affairs and chief research information officer for the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System. Prior to his tenure at UIC, Dr. Lussier was associate director of informatics for the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center as well as co-director of biomedical informatics for the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA)-funded Institute for Translational Medicine (2006-2011). From 2001-2006, Dr. Lussier was an assistant professor in the Departments of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine at Columbia University in New York.

Dr. Lussier’s research interests focus on the use of ontologies, knowledge technologies and genomic network model to accurately individualize the treatment of disease and to repurpose therapies. He has National Institutes of Health funding for a clinical trial that repositioned a combination therapy, he also bioinformatically predicted and obtained biological confirmation of several novel tumor suppressor microRNAs, including the first one underpinning the oligo- vs poly- metastasis development of cancer.

His research has been featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has authored 130 publications and delivered more than 100 invited presentations in precision medicine, systems medicine and translational bioinformatics, including 14 opening conference keynotes.

A Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, Dr. Lussier is a member of numerous governance, technology transfer, scientific and editorial boards, including the American Medical Informatics Association, International Society for Computational Biology, Society for Clinical and Translational Science, American Society for Cancer Research, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, American Association for the Advancement of Science and American Society for Human Genetics.

medical.research

BIO5-TGen collaboration targets Alzheimer’s disease

BIO5 Oro Valley today announced a collaboration with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to develop new therapies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

BIO5 Oro Valley co-Director and University of Arizona College of Pharmacy medicinal chemist Dr. Christopher Hulme’s collaborative effort with TGen Assistant Professor Dr. Travis Dunckley will focus on the development of novel, small molecule inhibitors of dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinase 1A (DYRK1A). Upregulation of this kinase is implicated in promoting memory deficits associated with Down syndrome and neurodegenerative pathologies, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

“DYRK1A is a well-validated, recently discovered target, ready for translational efforts to deliver an oral medication to patients suffering from this insidious disease,” said Dr. Hulme. “Indeed, coupled with the advanced small molecules in-hand that target DYRK1A, further efforts are underway that will broaden our therapeutic presence in the Alzheimer’s arena to other Arizona-based biological discoveries.”

Statistics from the National Institutes of Health indicate that 5.1 million older Americans – or 1-in-8 – suffer from Alzheimer’s, which makes it the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. Estimated to effect 45 million people worldwide by 2020, dementia is currently a leading, major unmet medical need and a costly burden on public health. Seventy percent of these cases have been attributed to Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative pathology characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive functions.

“This collaborative partnership is a critical step in advancing discoveries of the role DYRK1A plays to developing therapeutics that could alter the course of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Dunckley.

Drs. Hulme and Dunckley will focus on providing a significant alternative to common approaches that focus on small molecules that inhibit the production of neurotoxic fragments of amyloid proteins and antibody immunization approaches targeting the build up of these fragments.

The joint effort will explore the decrease of DYRK1A activity in the brain with proprietary small-molecule inhibitors. This approach could lead to new therapeutic strategies to alleviate cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome.