Tag Archives: biomedical research

Ariel Anbar and ASU graduate student Yun Duan inspect a sample of 2.5 billion-year-old seafloor.

ASU biogeochemist among 15 top scientist-educators

Biogeochemist Ariel Anbar has been selected as Arizona State University’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor. This distinguished honor recognizes Anbar’s pioneering research and teaching.

He is one of 15 professors from 13 universities whose appointments were announced by the Maryland-based biomedical research institute on June 30. The appointment includes a five-year $1 million grant to support Anbar’s research and educational activities.

Since the inception of the HHMI Professor program in 2002, and including the new group of 2014 professors, only 55 scientists have been appointed HHMI professors. These professors are accomplished research scientists who are working to change undergraduate science education in the United States.

“Exceptional teachers have a lasting impact on students,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “These scientists are at the top of their respective fields and they bring the same creativity and rigor to science education that they bring to their research.”

Anbar, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Art and Sciences, as well as a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability, was named an ASU President’s Professor in 2013 in recognition of his pioneering online education efforts. He is deeply involved in using the medium to its fullest to help educate and encourage a generation that has grown up with the Internet.

A leading geoscientist with more than 100 peer-reviewed papers to his name, Anbar’s research focuses on Earth’s past and future as a habitable planet. This expertise feeds directly into his teaching in the highly successful class Habitable Worlds, developed through ASU Online. In Habitable Worlds, Anbar and course designer Lev Horodyskyj combine the power of the Internet, game-inspired elements, and the sensibilities of a tech savvy generation to teach what makes planets habitable and engage students in a simulated hunt for other habitable worlds in the cosmos. This innovative online course kindles student interest and learning. Beginning in fall 2014, it will be available outside of ASU as HabWorlds Beyond (www.habworlds.org), via a partnership with education technology company Smart Sparrow. Habitable Worlds has been taken by more than 1,500 ASU students and consistently receives outstanding student reviews.

The HHMI grant will enable Anbar to develop a suite of online virtual field trips (VFTs) that teach the story of Earth’s evolution as an inhabited world. The virtual field trips will be based on nearly 4 billion years of Earth’s geological record. These immersive, interactive VFTs will take students to locations that teach key insights into Earth’s evolution, fundamental principles of geology, and practices of scientific inquiry.

Anbar helped lead a multi-institutional team that developed a number of such VFTs for use in Habitable Worlds and elsewhere (vft.asu.edu), supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation. Now, working with ASU education technologist and doctoral student Geoffrey Bruce, ASU professor and geoscience education specialist Steven Semken, and partners at other institutions, Anbar will build virtual field trips covering the sweep of Earth history. He and his team will take students to some of the most important places on Earth to explore how the planet came to be what it is today.

“The goal is to develop powerful and engaging new tools to teach about Earth’s evolution,” explains Anbar. “In the near term, we will create VFT-based lessons that can be incorporated into existing introductory geoscience courses. Right away, that can impact the roughly 2,000 majors and non-majors who take such courses each year at ASU, as well as thousands of students elsewhere. In the long run we aim to create a fully online course like Habitable Worlds – I’m calling it Evolving World for now – that covers the content of one of the most important introductory geoscience courses, historical geology.”

Anbar’s plan could re-invigorate instruction in historical geology, which is taught in nearly every geoscience program. In addition to being fundamental to the field of geology, it provides vital context for the search for life beyond Earth, and for the changes that humans are causing to the planet. However, historical geology is best taught through field experiences, which are logistically challenging at large universities. Even when they are possible, it is impossible to expose students to all the most scientifically important sites because they are scattered around the globe. While VFTs cannot rival physical field trips, they are a big advance over teaching this material only through lectures.

“Most science classes teach science as facts and answers,” says Anbar. “With VFTs, as with Habitable Worlds, we are trying to teach that science is really a process – a process of exploration that helps us first organize our ignorance about questions to which we don’t have answers, and then helps us narrow the uncertainties so that we can replace ignorance with understanding.”

Bioscience helix

Ivy Foundation Renews Support for TGen Program

The Arizona-based Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation will fund a second year of the Ivy Neurological Science Internship Program at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

The internship program offers hands-on biomedical research experience for high school, undergraduate and aspiring medical school students pursuing careers in brain tumor research, neuroscience and neurogenomics.

Through the program, world-class scientific investigators at TGen guide interns in the translational process of moving laboratory discoveries along the pipeline into new treatments for patients in clinical trials.

“Based upon the success of the 2012 pilot year, we believe the Ivy Neurological Science Internship Program at TGen will inspire a new generation of leaders in this field,” said Catherine Ivy, President of The Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation. “There is an urgent and continuing need to encourage research into the intricate workings of brain cancer.”

TGen will select seven students for the program this year. Starting in June, two high-school students will participate in a 10-week summer program. Four undergraduate students will spend the fall semester at TGen, and one student planning to attend medical school will participate for a full academic year, beginning in the fall.

“Development of a local, knowledge-based workforce depends on educating and training talented students in the latest aspects of biomedical research and medicine,” said TGen President Dr. Jeffrey Trent. “The continued support from the Ivy program greatly enhances our efforts to provide hands-on experience in the area of translational research.”

In addition to brain tumor and neurological sciences research experience, Ivy interns will participate in a clinical training module that will engage them with the ultimate focus of these studies – the patient.

“TGen recognizes that we must invest in the development of the next generation of researchers and physicians; we need to prepare today’s students for the complex and challenging work awaiting them in the areas of brain tumor and neurological sciences research,” said Brandy Wells, Manager of TGen’s Education and Outreach.

For more information, please contact Brandy Wells at bwells@tgen.org or 602-343-8655.

cress in lab

Researchers At The Translational Genomics Research Institute Have Embarked On A Number Of Cancer Studies

While scientists at the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) investigate diseases of the brain and heart, as well as deadly pathogens, most of the nonprofit biomedical institute’s research is devoted to seeking the genetic causes of cancer.

TGen’s central goal is to discover which genes within our 3-billion-base DNA either protect us from cancer or allow cancers to form.

This year, TGen has been involved in two cancer research initiatives that have potentially far-reaching implications.

In May, Stand Up to Cancer awarded an $18-million grant to TGen and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen’s physician-in-chief, and Dr. Craig B. Thompson, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead a three-year investigation into new approaches in treating pancreatic cancer, the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

In April, a study sponsored by TGen, Scottsdale Healthcare and Caris Dx showed that molecular profiling of patients can identify specific treatments for individuals, helping to keep their cancer in check for significantly longer periods and in some cases even shrink tumors. Von Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, released the study’s results at the 100th annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Denver.

TGen this year also has made major headlines on a monthly basis following other discoveries and partnerships that could lead to new treatments for cancer patients.

In August, Dr. Glen Weiss, who works for TGen and Scottsdale Healthcare, announced two significant advances in treating lung cancer. Weiss, an associate investigator in TGen’s cancer and cell biology division and director of thoracic oncology at TGen Clinical Research Services at Scottsdale Healthcare, made both announcements at the 13th World Conference on Lung Cancer in San Francisco. In one presentation, Weiss described research that eventually could help prevent lung cancer from spreading to the brain. In the second presentation, Weiss discussed the results of phase I clinical trials for a drug called TH-302 developed by Threshold Pharmaceuticals. The trials, conducted at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare, found that 75 percent of patients with small cell lung cancer who were treated only with TH-302 “achieved stable disease or better.” The trials also found that 67 percent of patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were treated with a combination of TH-302 and other chemotherapy agents “achieved stable disease or better.”

In July, an international scientific team led by TGen received a $1 million grant from the Melanoma Research Alliance to study skin cancer. The team, led by Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen’s president and research director, will conduct a two-year study called, Identification of Novel Melanoma Risk Genes Using High-Throughput Genomics.

Also in July, California and Arizona researchers identified a gene variant that carries nearly twice the risk of developing an increasingly common type of blood cancer, according to a study published by the science journal, Nature Genetics. Investigators at the University of California, Berkeley and at TGen found that mutations in a gene called C6orf15, or STG, are associated with the risk of developing follicular lymphoma. This is a cancer of the body’s disease-fighting network and has an incidence rate that has nearly doubled in the past three decades.

In May, the opening of a new breast health center next to John C. Lincoln Deer Valley Hospital provided significant new research opportunities for TGen. The 9,000-square-foot Breast Health and Research Center includes a tumor biorepository for TGen that will aid the research institute in discovering new ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer, which affects one in every eight American women.

In April, TGen researchers announced they might have found a way to stop the often rapid spread of deadly brain tumors. One gene, named NHERF-1, may be a serious target for drugs that could prevent malignant tumors from rapidly multiplying and invading other parts of the brain, according to a cover story in Neoplasia, an international journal of cancer research.

In February, TGen and the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) announced they would forge a strategic alliance to enable both to maximize their worldwide contributions to science and health. The partnership between TGen and the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based VARI will enable both institutes to speed up their mutual goals of moving research discoveries about cancer and other debilitating medical conditions from laboratories to patient care as quickly as possible.

TGen’s efforts are also international. The institute is partnering with the small European country of Luxembourg to help develop the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL). In addition, TGen is part of the first IBBL demonstration project, Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer, in collaboration with the Partnership for Personalized Medicine.

Steve Yozwiak is a senior science writer at TGen, www.tgen.org.