Tag Archives: researcher

medical.research

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.

prevention trial - brain scan images

TGen scientist launches innovative online research project

A scientific researcher at Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) has launched a first-of-its-kind online memory test to help better understand human cognition and how it might relate to Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.

Dubbed “MindCrowd”, the study seeks to attract 1 million individuals, aged 18 to 80, willing to complete the 10-minute online memory test at mindcrowd.org. Researchers will use the test results to build a base of data for further study on how cognition and memory changes as people age.

Eventually, the researchers want to leverage this newly-gained biological insight into therapeutic application — treatment. The hope is for the online test to go viral with friends, families and colleagues challenging one another to take the test and compare the results.

MindCrowd is the brainchild of TGen Associate Professor Dr. Matt Huentelman who believes understanding how the brain works in healthy individuals will foster the development of new medicines and therapies for those with brain disorders. Dr. Huentelman’s TGen lab studies the genomics of human neurological traits and diseases with a specific focus on learning, memory and Alzheimer’s.

“MindCrowd is the first research project of its kind,” said Huentelman, an expert in genomics as it relates to memory. “By harnessing the power of the Internet, we can study a million – or more – individuals to help bring us closer to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. Combining our knowledge of human genetics and neuroscience with an online research study like MindCrowd is a revolutionary approach to understanding our differences in brain performance and how it may influence risk for disease. We expect to add significantly to our understanding of cognition and how genetic factors impact our memory as we age.”

The MindCrowd project has two phases: Phase I involves memory testing of 1 million or more study participants. Following an in-depth analysis of Phase I test results, researchers will then solicit a subset of Phase I participants willing to donate a DNA saliva sample and undergo an additional round of online testing.

Participation is encouraged from a broad range of ages, backgrounds and cognitive abilities. Those taking the test are free to remain anonymous, although it is encouraged that people share basic data to help the project succeed. The test does not predict or diagnose any condition, rather it provides data on one type of memory and how these processes change as people age and have varied life experiences.

MindCrowd is a collaborative effort among leading scientific research institutions and organizations including TGen, the University of Arizona, Banner Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative and others.

Visit www.mindcrowd.org to take the test.

selfservicemakingyourbusinessbetter

Are Self-Service Technologies Making Your Business Better?

Self-service technologies, which automate routine interactions between companies and customers, are a source of convenience and efficiency to both parties — until something goes wrong and the customer cannot make the system work. Many companies should be focusing more closely on the overall customer experience, says Michael Goul, a professor of information systems and a researcher at the Center for Advancing Business Through Information Technology. Curiously, here’s a case where businesses could learn something from government! (12:32)

2010 Health Care Leadership Awards

2010 Health Care Leadership Awards

Arizona Business Magazine is pleased to present and honor some of the people who bring excellence to the Valley’s health care system with Health Care Leadership Awards.

The honorees and finalists for these awards have served for years to bring quality care to men, women and children across the Valley – from hospital managers and executives, institutional and educational programs, to insurance providers and the people at the front line.

Community Outreach

Honoree:

Crista Johnson, MD, FACOG Refugee Women’s Health Clinic

Finalists:

Lucy Ranus, RN, BSN
Program Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center/Barrow Neurological Institute

Health Care Administrator

Honoree:

Kathleen Dowler, Community Integration, Catholic Healthcare West

Finalists:

Bryan Gibson, President of the South and Southwest Region for Southwest Ambulance/Rural Metro

Linda McCoy, Director of Pharmacy at Yavapai Regional Medical Center

Hospital and Medical Center

Honoree:

Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Western Regional Medical Center

Finalists:

Banner Simulation Medical Center

NextCare Urgent Care

Hospital Executive

Honoree:

Peter Fine, CEO, Banner Health

Finalist:

Laurie Eberst, President and CEO, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center

David Veillette, CEO, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)

Institution or Education

Honoree:

Medical Center Maricopa, Integrated Health System, Residency Training Programs Maricopa

Finalist:

Cigna Medical Group Chronic Health Improvement Program (CHIP)

Phoenix Children’s Hospital Graduate Advancement Program in Pediatrics (GAPP)

Insurance Executive

Honoree:

Robert Flores,President and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Finalist:

Robert Beauchamp, MD Senior Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare of Arizona

Robert Flores, Medical Director, Population Health Management at CIGNA HealthCare of Arizona

Nurse & Nursing Advocates

Honoree:

Kim Wilson

Finalist:

Linda Lindquist, RN Director of Critical Care Phoenix Baptist Hospital

Physician

Honoree:

Brian Tiffany, MD, Ph.D., FACEP

Finalist:

John Shufeldt, MD, JD, MBA, FACEP

Julianne Thompson, Medical Director

Researcher

Legislative Impact Award & Lifetime Achievement

Honorees:

Roy Ryals, Executive Director, Southwest Ambulance

Joseph Rodgers, PH.D.

Narrow Angle Camera Nasa Mars Mission University of Arizona

Strong Ties To NASA’s Mars Program Fuels Money Into State’s Economy

Millions of miles away and dragging a broken wheel, the Mars rover Spirit illustrates how the stars have aligned for Arizona and its growing position in space research and exploration. Besides the engineering miracle of functioning on just three working wheels, Spirit’s broken fourth appendage is unintentionally digging a trench, unearthing fresh proof the Red Planet once held water and the inklings of life.

Spirit, along with its twin rover, Opportunity, has been operating on the surface of Mars for more than five years, far longer than engineers predicted. In another happy accident, dust devils have routinely cleansed the solar panels of Opportunity, extending its life and its ability to transmit data and images of Mars. That’s something researchers did not expect, or plan for.

“That’s just great engineering — pure and simple,” says Jack Farmer, an Arizona State University professor conducting research in astrobiology within the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). “It’s been a great twist of fate.”

While Spirit and Opportunity might be enjoying a little luck, it isn’t a coincidence that SESE has been quietly blazing a new path for ASU, and in the process elevating the school’s prominence with NASA and a cadre of impressed scientists and researchers.

Kip Hodges came to ASU three years ago to be the founding director of SESE and brought with him an impressive curriculum vitae that includes more than 20 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In less than three years, ASU’s reputation has risen among its peers, and in the process fostered an academic environment that appeals to some of the nation’s top engineering and research talent. Today, the school continues to conduct groundbreaking experiments and research that merges earth and space sciences with engineering and high-technology processes.

“The vision that has emerged from SESE is one that fuses science and engineering to explore space and the function of our home world, and show us how and where we might evolve in the future,” Hodges says. SESE pairs two already impressive ASU disciplines: geological sciences with astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology.

“Among other things, we look at the fingerprints of ancient time — rocks, ocean sediments — study these and look at how life came to be here and the impact we as humans are having on it,” adds SESE Associate Professor Ariel Anbar, a biogeochemist interested in the evolution of the Earth’s environment. From an economic standpoint, Hodges says that while all the research — the trips to Mars and the search for how we came to be — is key to ASU, it also plays a huge role in the economy of the state and the Southwest. Partnerships to engineer a Mars rover, for instance, can impact several vendors and businesses across many levels. In Arizona, ASU has already worked with Honeywell, for instance, and aerospace and manufacturing titan General Dynamics has built transmitters and transponders to assist in retrieving the data and images from Mars.

The Phoenix Has Landed
Like an asteroid impact, the economic effects of space research extend far and wide. The Arizona Aerospace, Defense and Avionics Industry reports that Arizona ranks eighth in the U.S. in aerospace and defense industry employment and fourth in the employment of full-time workers. Industry figures show these jobs pay more than 52 percent higher than Arizona’s average wage. A recent Battelle study pins aerospace and the related research industries in the Grand Canyon State as one of Arizona’s core competencies. In fact, the state has one of the largest concentrations of telescopes in the world and a legacy of more than 50 missions.

It’s not just the Valley and ASU that reap the rewards of space research and exploration. Scientists, researchers and engineers in Southern Arizona have long played a vital role in the state’s space industry. One of the most visible projects, the Phoenix Mars Mission, put Arizona at the forefront of national media and space research interests.

The Mars Phoenix Lander descended on the Red Planet in May 2008, in full view of a worldwide audience awed by the entire process. The multiagency mission was led by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, with guidance from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Phoenix Mars mission was the first to be led by a university, and one that Michael Drake, director of UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, says is the perfect example of what can be accomplished when a multitude of international agencies, governments and universities work together to accomplish a single goal — successful planetary and space research and all the far-reaching implications here on Earth.

Drake says projects such as the Phoenix Mars mission bring to light the pioneering research and feats of engineering being conducted in Arizona, which pump significant dollars into the state’s economy. “These types of projects have a huge ripple effect,” Drake notes, adding that UA and ASU continue to work hand in-hand to build Arizona’s leading position in space research and exploration. But, he adds, it is an investment that must come with a commitment from state and federal leaders who must realize that money invested today will likely have a significant impact years down the road. Simply put, he adds, it’s an investment in the future of the state, our universities and our economy.

“The business community understands this,” Drake says. “Besides all of the university employees and researchers, we employ a variety of small businesses — mainly in Arizona. We keep the wealth here.”

Mars Money
George Rieke, a regents professor of astronomy and deputy director of the Steward Observatory at UA, says that unlike many universities working with NASA on space missions already in place, UA has had central roles in building and operating the missions, as well as reaping the scientific benefits.

“Perhaps the most dramatic example was the construction of the Mars Phoenix Lander and its operation from a control center in Tucson,” Rieke says. “As a result, our involvement with NASA brings high technology right into our midst, along with the public interest and excitement in the resulting scientific advances. This interest, in turn, will bring interesting, high-paying jobs to us in the form of a broad spectrum of technology-based businesses.”

The impact of space research is significant in Southern Arizona. According to a recent study by the Arizona Arts, Sciences and Technology Academy, astronomy and space-related research injected more than $250 million into the state’s economy during fiscal 2006. In addition, over a 10-year period from 1998 to 2007, NASA awarded UA $444.3 million in research grants and space exploration dollars. Arizona’s clear skies and moderate desert climate continue to drive much of the growth and interest in further space-related endeavors. Besides the effects in Southern Arizona, there has been a steady increase in the monetary impact to ASU from NASA. In 2000, ASU was awarded $9.9 million in NASA grants, nearly $10.1 million in 2005 and $16.8 million in 2008. Since 2000, ASU has been the recipient of more than $121 million from NASA.

Grant money fuels research, engages future scientists and continues ASU’s cutting-edge work. Hodges, likes to point out that grant money isn’t confined to ASU. When new faculty members or researchers come to ASU to work at SESE, they bring their families, buy homes, groceries and contribute in many ways to the economy of the state. Currently, there are 42 faculty and more than 60 research scientists and postdoctoral scholars at SESE, with 97 graduate and 96 undergraduate students.

Hodges says that while the state has rightly invested heavily in the biomedical sector — and recorded some impressive economic advantages and revenue sources such as TGen — many states around the U.S. are competing for some of the same slices of the biomed pie. However, Arizona has the opportunity to be a magnet for space research and exploration.

“The tactical advantage of space science and research is that not many people are playing in that sandbox,” Hodges adds. “There is a great deal to be gained from an investment perspective. The opportunities are fantastic here.”

Future research is also compelling. The upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission is scheduled to launch this spring. LRO is the first spacecraft to be built as part of NASA’s return to the moon, and SESE has been intimately involved in preparations for this mission. One of the orbiter’s seven instruments, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), was designed by one of the school’s professors, a project that has brought in nearly $10.4 million from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2007. The school’s lunar center has also been working with the Johnson Space Center to scan and create an online digital archive of all the original Apollo flight films.

In 2008, SESE was awarded $14 million in NASA grants, which equates to about 10 percent of all grants awarded to ASU, and about 20 percent of grants awarded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASU’s largest college. Unlike UA, ASU does not operate any telescopes. Also of note is the fact that $14 million is a hefty sum to be awarded when a mission is not being run.

“This is work force development at its finest,” Hodges says. “We cannot lose out on these opportunities and the momentum we’ve created.” Drake at UA agrees the state has seen significant momentum, but expresses caution and dismay over funding reductions by state lawmakers, who are wrestling with huge budget shortfalls and have identified significant cuts in Arizona’s universities.

“The state Legislature is unwittingly disregarding an enormous amount of money that comes into — and stays in Arizona — from space research and exploration,” he says. “If we can’t compete and keep the people and talent we have, the state is shorting itself of huge economic opportunities. It is very short sighted.”

Sumner Starrfield is a regent professor at SESE and a computational astrophysicist who studies stellar explosions looking for clues on where life originated on Earth. He notes that ASU and UA have made a great deal of progress in attracting and retaining faculty and, in the process, nurturing the next generation of researchers. While the state remains in the throes of a severe budget crisis, officials also contend that further cuts to Arizona’s educational system will put some brakes on the current progress.

“ASU has worked hard to get to where we are today,” Starrfield says. “The grant money generated by the school spreads throughout the economy of Arizona. It is important for us to remember what we are trying to accomplish and how it affects our future.”

Drake notes that while Arizona has made significant inroads with biotechnology job creation and research, space exploration remains an untapped galaxy of economic wealth.

“I always like to say, ‘If a field has a name, it’s too late to get into the game.’ The train has already left the station. That’s where we are at in space research and exploration in Arizona,” he says. “We are pioneering and creating a new economy here. We just need some help to continue to build something great.”

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

A view of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's instrument bench with both Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) telescopes visible in the center. Photo: University of Arizona

Mars' Arabian Terra NASA photos of space

A false-color image of the dunes on Mars' Arabian Terra from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. Photo: NASA/JPL/ASU