Tag Archives: tgen

medical.research

TGen study finds origin of lung fungus

Cryptococcus gattii, a virulent fungus that has invaded the Pacific Northwest is highly adaptive and warrants global “public health vigilance,” according to a study by an international team led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

C. gattii, which likely originated in Brazil, is responsible for dozens of deaths in recent years since it was first found in 1999 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, well outside its usual tropical habitats.

“We identified several genes that may make the outbreak strains more capable of surviving colder environments and that make it more harmful in the lungs,” said David Engelthaler, Director of Programs and Operations for TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division (TGen North) and lead author of the study published today in the scientific journal mBio.

This study should form the basis of additional investigations about how and why C. gattii disperses and emerges. It identified several new genomic targets for diagnostic tests, and possible new targets for therapeutic drugs and preventative vaccines.

“By closely analyzing the genomes of dozens of outbreak strains, as well as globally diverse strains, we were able to closely compare and determine the genomic differences that may cause their clinical and ecological changes,” said Dr. Paul Keim, one of the study’s senior authors. Dr. Keim also is Director of TGen North, and Director of the Microbial Genetics and Genomics Center at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

TGen, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, conducted one of the largest global fungal genome analyses of a specific species to understand its emergence in new environments. The collaborative team included 24 researchers from 13 institutions in seven nations who sequenced 115 genomes of C. gattii collected from 15 countries.

“By thinking globally, we were able to better understand what was happening locally,” Engelthaler said.

C. gattii was typically a tropical fungus before it was discovered in the temperate environs of Vancouver Island. It soon evolved into a new, more virulent, pulmonary disease that quickly spread to mainland Canada and south into the state of Washington. That was followed by an outbreak in Oregon of another new strain of C. gattii, which also displayed increased lethality and similarly spread throughout the Pacific Northwest.

C. gattii previously was associated with neurological disease in strains found elsewhere in the world. But the strains discovered in the Pacific Northwest not only establish a new environmental niche, but also display increased virulence and produce severe lung infections.

“We provide evidence that the Pacific Northwest strains originated from South America, and identified numerous genes potentially related to habitat adaptation, virulence expression and to clinical presentation,” said Dr. Wieland Meyer, the study’s other senior author.

“Further elucidation and characterization of these genetic features may lead to improved diagnostics and therapies for infections caused by this continually evolving fungus,” said Dr. Meyer, who is affiliated with: Sydney Medical School-Westmead Hospital; the University of Sydney; and the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research.

This study concludes that: “Public health vigilance is warranted for emergence in
regions where C. gattii is not thought to be endemic.”

New tests developed for this study by TGen are making it easier to detect this and other fungi, and could lead to better monitoring and treatments. The same tools used in this study also were used to investigate the cause of a fungal meningitis outbreak associated with steroid back injections, and the recent outbreak of Valley Fever in the state of Washington.

The journal, mBio, is published by the American Society for Microbiology.

Collaborators in this study include researchers at the University of California-Davis, and in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Caledonia, Thailand, Columbia, and Brazil.

The study, “Cryptococcus gattii in North American Pacific Northwest: whole population genome analysis provides insights into species evolution and dispersal,” was supported by a grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH under Award Number R21AI098059. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

bioscience

TGen teams up with Ceres Nanosciences

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Ceres Nanosciences, Inc. (Ceres) today announced a development collaboration to benefit patients with cancer, infectious diseases, and other life-threatening illnesses.

TGen, at the heart of Phoenix’s Biomedical Campus, is recognized as a pioneer in studying genomics, or DNA, to uncover the underlying molecular causes of disease, as well as developing automated workflows to enable molecular medicine. Ceres, a biotechnology company located in northern Virginia, has developed and commercialized a novel nanotechnology, the “Nanotrap®”, which provides powerful sample processing capabilities for a wide array of diagnostic applications and sample handling needs.

The Nanotrap technology was invented at George Mason University (Mason) under funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for biomarker discovery applications, and currently is being developed into commercial grade products by Ceres with continuing support from NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The combination of Ceres’ Nanotrap technology and TGen’s world-class research capabilities and resources will lead to significant improvements in high sensitivity and high throughput clinical diagnostics, providing substantial patient benefit with newer, more accurate, and more reliable testing methods for a range of life-threatening diseases.

The collaboration has already produced data that demonstrates the Nanotrap particles’ performance in automated high-throughput biomarker discovery applications. Ceres, TGen and Mason will use the exciting preliminary results to seek additional collaborations and support to develop an array of new sample processing and diagnostic solutions.

“There is great patient demand and clinical utility for new, groundbreaking diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” said Ross Dunlap, CEO of Ceres. “The biggest challenge to delivering these tests is building the scale and efficiency required to make these new tests cost-effective. Speed and throughput coupled with even higher analytical sensitivities than have ever been achieved before is the key. The collaboration between Ceres and TGen is already addressing this challenge by integrating advanced automation solutions, analytical platforms, and sample processing technologies to deliver groundbreaking protein and DNA based clinical tests.”

“TGen’s collaboration with Ceres enables additional research to expand our work into other disease settings,” said Dr. Michael Berens, TGen Deputy Director for Research Resources, “and Nanotrap allows us to do so by functioning at the fastest and most-sensitive levels while using only minimally- or non-invasive patient samples.”

medical.research

TGen, SHC begin clinical trial for anti-tumor drug

The Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) are studying the safety and effectiveness of a new drug, AG-120, for treatment of patients with solid tumors, especially those with brain tumors and gallbladder bile duct cancer.

“AG-120 is designed specifically for those patients who carry the IDH1 gene mutation,” said Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, Distinguished Professor and Physician-In-Chief at TGen, and Chief Scientific Officer for the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership between Scottsdale Healthcare and TGen that delivers new treatments to cancer patients based on precision medicine.

The IDH1 gene mutation is most commonly found in gliomas, which make up the largest group of “primary” brain tumors, those that start in the brain. Gliomas include all tumors arising from the gluey or supportive tissue of the brain. They represent about 30 percent of all brain tumors, and about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors.

As with all brain cancers, gliomas are difficult to treat and many grow back after surgery, radiation and standard of care chemotherapy. Many drugs cannot get to the brain because of a filtering mechanism in the body called the blood-brain barrier.

“There is a great need for more effective treatments for patients with gliomas and other solid tumors, such as gallbladder bile duct cancer,” said Dr. Von Hoff, who is the Principal Investigator for AG-120 clinical trial. This study will enroll as many as 50 patients. Researchers will use precision medicine to match treatments to patient’s specific genomic, or molecular, makeups.

Mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) 1 and 2, originally discovered in 2008, occur in the vast majority of low-grade gliomas and secondary high-grade gliomas. IDH mutations are oncogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer. These mutations occur early in the formation of gliomas and in gallbladder bile duct cancer.

AG-120 is produced by Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

IDH1 is a metabolic enzyme identified by Agios as a protein that is mutated in a wide range of malignant tumors. Agios and its collaborators recently demonstrated that IDH1 mutations initiate and drive cancer growth by blocking differentiation, or maturation, of primitive cells. According to Agios, the inhibition of these mutated proteins may lead to clinical benefit for those cancer patients whose tumors carry them.

stem.cell

TGen and NAU celebrate 5-year research pact

Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) announced a five-year agreement to promote innovation and quality research benefiting Arizona.

The NAU-TGen Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) implements the allocation of state funding as directed by Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona Legislature, and reaffirms the commitment of both institutions toward quality research, training and educational opportunities, protection of public health and improved patient care. The Governor and Legislature recommitted state funding support as part of the 2014-15 state budget, recognizing the positive dividends from a viable, competitive bioindustry in Arizona.

“TGen has played a valuable role in developing and advancing Arizona’s bioscience industry,” said Governor Brewer. “From delivering medical breakthroughs and first-rate research — to creating quality jobs and growing our economy — TGen is a shining example of the innovative companies we seek to attract and expand in Arizona. By enhancing the successful partnership between TGen and NAU, we can ensure that both our bioscience industry and our economy will continue to thrive for years to come.”

NAU and TGen also announced today that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has approved a patent for a new set of genetically-based tests, jointly developed by NAU and TGen, that accurately identify fungal pathogens that threaten public health worldwide. Broad-based identification of fungi is essential for clinical diagnostics and also for environmental testing. This is the first of many patents anticipated through NAU-TGen collaborations.

The two institutions also are celebrating other joint research, including highly accurate, genetically-based tests for detecting and monitoring Valley Fever, influenza and different types of staph bacteria infections, especially the potentially deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.

These achievements, and numerous other collaborations underway between NAU and TGen, will be celebrated at 2 p.m. today at NAU’s Applied Research and Development building.

The NAU-TGen developed genetic-based tests allow real-time tests in any location, including laboratories, but also clinics, physician offices, emergency rooms and even field settings. Immediate diagnosis of pathogens is a critical part of TGen’s push for precision medicine, in which patients receive the correct treatments as quickly as possible, speeding their recovery and saving lives.

The genetic-based tests for various pathogens were developed by a team from NAU and TGen that includes Dr. Paul Keim, Director of TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division (also known as TGen North) in Flagstaff, and a Regents Professor and Cowden Endowed Chair in Microbiology at NAU.

“These advanced diagnostics have far reaching implications for protecting public health, quickly treating patients and lowering the cost of healthcare,” Dr. Keim said. “Through our joint NAU-TGen research, we are continuing to develop tools and technologies that have a great impact on human health.”

This joint effort has generated other intellectual property, stimulated the founding of a startup company, and now generates licensing revenues for both NAU and TGen.

“Our relationship with TGen exemplifies the importance of the biosciences to NAU and to Arizona’s economy,” said NAU President John Haeger. “An important mission of our university is to produce research with direct benefits to the state and to the world, and together with TGen that is what we are accomplishing. We look forward to much more.”

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director, praised President Haeger, Gov. Brewer and the Arizona Legislature for helping ensure TGen’s continuing role in stimulating local research that directly benefits Arizona patients.

“We are enormously grateful to Governor Brewer and the state Legislature, particularly the leadership, for their continuing confidence and support in us,” said Dr. Trent. “In addition, as demonstrated by the leadership and cooperation of President Haeger, Dr. Keim and NAU, there is no question that these types of collaborations between universities and research institutions can result in significant commercial applications.”

bioscience

Pancreatic cancer drug successfully tested by TGen

A clinical trial conducted by researchers at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials, a partnership between Scottsdale Healthcare and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), showed that a new drug called MM-398, given in combination with 5-flourouracil (5FU) and leucovorin, produced a significant overall survival rate in patients with advanced, previously-treated pancreatic cancer.

The NAPOLI-1 (NAnoliPOsomaL Irinotecan) Phase 3 study — a final confirmation of a drug’s safety and effectiveness — was conducted among patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer who previously received gemcitibine, which has been the standard-of-care therapy for such patients.

The study, sponsored by Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, evaluated 417 patients enrolled at more than 100 sites in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, including patients at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare. Merrimack expects to submit a New Drug Application this year to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the MM-398 combination regimen.

“This demonstration of a survival benefit from the MM-398 plus 5-FU and leucovorin combination is particularly important given that we have very few treatment options for patients in this tough clinical setting,” said Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, FACP, global principal investigator of the NAPOLI-1 study, Chief Scientific Officer for Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials and Physician-In-Chief and Distinguished Professor at TGen. “The results of the NAPOLI-1 study are important because of the critical need to help patients with this devastating illness and move forward towards FDA approval.”

The combination of MM-398 with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and leucovorin achieved an overall survival of 6.1 months, a 1.9 month improvement over the 4.2 month survival demonstrated by the control arm of 5-FU and leucovorin alone.

Each year in the U.S., nearly 46,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and more than 39,000 patients die, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Only about 1 in 4 patients survive more than one year after diagnosis, and only 6 percent survivor more than five years.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer usually do not appear until the cancer is in its late stages, making it difficult to treat. Once the disease spreads to other parts of the body, most patients are not candidates for surgery and receive chemotherapy as their primary treatment.

This study will be presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology World Conference on Gastrointestinal Cancer being held June 25-28 in Barcelona, Spain.

Patients seeking information about research studies may contact the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare at 480-323-1339 or toll free at 1-877-273-3713 or e-mail: clinicaltrials@shc.org.

Michael Gordon MD

Gordon named clinical trials medical director

Michael S. Gordon, MD, one of the greater Phoenix area’s leading medical oncologists and cancer researchers, has been named the new Medical Director for the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials program at Scottsdale Healthcare. Dr. Gordon will oversee the center’s internationally recognized Phase I clinical trials program, which is known for its leadership in first-in-human studies of new cancer therapies.

Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership with TGen, is a leading clinical research site for Phase I studies of new cancer drugs. It is often among the first in the world to offer a new investigational drug for eligible patients with a broad range of cancers.

Dr. Gordon is a medical oncologist who serves as CEO of Pinnacle Oncology Hematology, a division of Arizona Center for Cancer Care, in Scottsdale, focusing on translational research and the care and management of cancer patients seeking phase I and phase II clinical trials. He is a Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, and is actively engaged in the education of medical students as co-director of the Oncology Block.

Dr. Gordon’s principal research interests are in development of new cancer therapies with a focus on targeted and immunologic therapies as well as drugs that affect angiogenesis (tumor blood vessel supply). Avastin®, Perjeta® and Neumega® are among the drugs Dr. Gordon has helped validate for FDA approval. His disease focuses include kidney cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) and ovarian cancer.

Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, through its relationships with top physician scientists, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies world wide, offers a variety of early-phase cancer research studies providing local impact to the citizens of Arizona, according to Dr. Gordon.

“The care and management of patients with cancer and associated diagnoses is rapidly evolving. The ability to provide patients with cutting-edge treatments has the potential to transform the way cancer care is delivered. The Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare has always been a leader in this regard and its relationships with its community partners defines Scottsdale Healthcare’s commitment to our patients and our community,” said Dr. Gordon.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and to the evolution of a new dynamic as we work to accelerate the access to new cancer drugs to our patients in need. By focusing on innovation in a collaborative spirit with our community physicians, we reinforce our primary commitment to our patients and their families,” he continued.

Dr. Gordon specifically noted the strength of the talent in Scottsdale and their commitment to excellence. “Our programs have a tremendous core of individuals at all levels of clinical research and primary patient care who ensure that we do the best work possible, drawing greater focus on Scottsdale as the “go to” place for cancer drug development.”

The Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare and Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute are known for collaborations with leading genomic scientists, academic centers and community-based physicians such as the Arizona Center for Cancer Care, Palo Verde Hematology Oncology and Arizona Oncology Associates, said Mark Slater, PhD, chief executive, Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute.

“We will continue to collaborate with our community physicians, our partners at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Translational Drug Development (TD2), nationally recognized universities and others to better serve our community and accelerate breakthrough innovations for cancer treatment,” added Dr. Slater.

Examples of recent successes in accelerating new drug development at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center are skin cancer drug Erivedge® and the use of Abraxane for treating pancreatic cancer. Both worldwide studies were led in Scottsdale by Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, chief scientific officer of the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare and TGen Physician-in-Chief.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Erivedge® for advanced basal cell carcinoma in January 2012 and approved Abraxane in combination with standard therapy for pancreatic cancer in September 2013.

“We are honing in on the pathways to help tailor the right drug to the right patient at the right time,” said Dr. Von Hoff. “This is an exciting era of precision medicine and the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials program at Scottsdale Healthcare provides unprecedented access to new therapies for people in our community.”

Ramesh Ramanathan, MD, an investigator at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials specializing in treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, agreed that the program will benefit from the inclusion of Dr. Gordon.

“My passion is cancer research and I look forward to growing our program along with Dr. Gordon, Dr. Von Hoff and everyone involved in this important work at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare. I’m optimistic that we can continue our strong track record of success as we battle this disease,” said Dr. Ramanathan, who is also a senior investigator and Clinical Professor at TGen and the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix.

“Our campus is becoming the epicenter of research activity across the Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network, and we are creating an infrastructure that continues to attract top talent to our organization,” added Gary Baker, senior vice president and CEO, Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center.

Baker noted that the depth of science through the diagnostic and genomic capabilities available to local cancer patients is a key benefit of the inclusiveness and collaborative spirit fostered within the Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute.

“It’s a great example of locally based, yet nationally respected leading researchers, community physicians and clinical teams working together to develop new therapies and innovative treatments that benefit patients here in Arizona and across the United States,” concluded Ron Korn, MD, PhD, medical director of the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare.

The Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare opened in 2001 as the first major cancer center in greater Phoenix, offering comprehensive cancer care and research through Phase I clinical trials, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and support services in collaboration with leading researchers and community oncologists.

Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare is known worldwide for its expertise in studying new treatments for pancreatic cancer. It is a co-lead site with Dr. Von Hoff as the principal investigator for Stand Up to Cancer’s Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team comprised of scientists working to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

The Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare, an affiliate of the Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network, is designated by the Association of Community Cancer Centers as a Community Resource Center for Pancreatic Cancer and holds Accreditation with Commendation from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons.

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Az Business honors healthcare leaders

Each year, Az Business magazine hosts the Healthcare Leadership Awards to honor the women, men and institutions that bring excellence and innovation to Arizona’s healthcare system. Here are the winners and finalists who were chosen by a panel of industry experts and were recognized at the 2014 Healthcare Leadership Awards on Thursday, April 10 at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix. See photos from the event here or on our Facebook page.

BIOSCIENCE COMPANY
Winner: Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)
TGen has made great strides in the field if genomics medicine. TGen researchers work to help physicians prescribe drugs that are designed more intelligently, work more effectively and have fewer toxic side effects. They have received numerous grants to support research into brain cancer and brain injuries, advanced cancers, Parkinson’s, rare childhood disorders, and more.

Finalists:
Barrow at PCH
Sonora Quest

COMMUNITY OUTREACH/EDUCATION
Winner: Barbara Kavanagh, Arizona Myeloma Network
Kavanagh’s mission is to change the lack of information and support resources for myeloma cancer by forming the Arizona Myeloma Network and the Living with Myeloma Conference, which has grown to 300 people. She also introduced the Pat and Bill Hite Cancer Caregivers Education and Support Program for caregivers to receive support and answers.

Finalists:
Catherine Ivy, Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation
Kathleen Goeppinger, Ph.D., Midwestern University

HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE
Winner: Robert L. Meyer, Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Meyer is credited for the rapid and significant turnaround of Phoenix Children’s Hospital from the edge of financial failure to a successful $588 million expansion that made the hospital into one of the largest pediatric medical centers in the country. PCH is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals.

Finalists:
Tim Bricker, Chandler Regional and Mercy Gilbert
Mary Lee DeCoster, Maricopa Integrated Health System
Tony Marinello, CEO of Mountain Vista, IASIS Healthcare
Ed Myers, St. Luke’s Medical Center, IASIS Healthcare

HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE
Winner: Dr. John Chen, Maricopa Integrated Health System
Serving the community’s most vulnerable residents, Chen has helped thousands of patients within the Maricopa Integrated Health System. He sees patients who are in urgent need of treatment because of their lack of dental insurance or location in third world countries. He promotes dental care and hygiene to help prevent serious diseases.

Finalists:
Dr. Randal Christensen, Crews ‘n’ Healthcare
Gerri Hether, Orchard Medical Consulting

INSURANCE PROVIDER
Winner: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
Marking its 75th anniversary in Arizona, BCBSAZ is committed to improving the quality of life for all Arizonans. The company focuses on providing the best value in health insurance as well as outside programs targeted to children and their families to help reduce childhood obesity.

Finalists:
Health Net of Arizona
UnitedHealthcare of Arizona

LEGAL ADVOCATE
Winner: Kristen Rosati, Polsinelli
As an attorney dedicated to the healthcare industry, especially to healthcare privacy, health information exchange and clinical research, Rosati has written 12 books, 30 articles and made 200 presentations on healthcare topics. She also helped establish two nonprofits in Arizona that support health information exchange and health information technology.

Finalists:
Richard Mallery, Snell and Wilmer
Martin L. Shultz, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

MEDICAL CENTER OR HOSPITAL
Winner: Scottsdale Healthcare
As a nonprofit, Scottsdale Healthcare not only employs 6,500 staff members, but also is comprised of 1,400 volunteers who donate more than 155,000 hours of service each year. They are the largest employer in the City of Scottsdale and is known for its innovative medical technology, research and patient care.

Finalists:
Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
St. Joseph’s Medical Center
St. Luke’s Medical Center

MEDICAL COMPANY OF THE YEAR
Winner: Ventana
Ventana is driving personalized healthcare through the development of “companion diagnostics” to identify patients most likely to respond favorably to specific therapies. Ventana has worked is currently engaged in more that 150 collaborative projects to develop and commercialize companion diagnostics globally.

Finalists:
Medtronic
W.L. Gore and Associates

MEDICAL RESEARCH COMPANY
Winner: Banner Alzheimer’s Institute
BAI has undergone a major prevention trial to evaluate a treatment in cognitively healthy older adults at the highest known genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease at older ages. The study is part of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative API, an international collaboration led by BAI to accelerate the evaluation of promising but unproven prevention therapies.

Finalists:
Banner MD Anderson
University of Arizona Cancer Center

PHYSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Winner: Jimmy Chow, IASIS Healthcare
Chow improved the field of orthopedics by helping to design and teach a hybrid technique of a minimally invasive total hip replacement where the surgeon builds a new hip from inside the body. This surgery results in no post-operative limitations and many patients are discharged within 24 hours. Chow is one of 10 surgeons in the world to perform his surgery.

Finalists:
Karen Corallo Chaney, Magellan Health Services
David Notrica, Phoenix Children’s Hospital

RESEARCHER OF THE YEAR
Winner: Venkatesh G. Ramaiah, Arizona Heart Hospital
Ramaiah, the medical director and director of vascular and endovascular research, successfully created the “un balloon,” which is used to remodel thoracic endografts without the wind sock effect. This products was able to be marketed and sold.

Finalists:
David Jacofsky, CORE Institute
Glen Weiss, CTCA

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Linda Hunt, Dignity Health
Hunt, who has served as the leader of Dignity Health in Arizona since 2012, has taken a leadership role to advance healthcare and the biosciences for the people of Arizona. She has worked diligently with legislators, business leaders, educators, scientists and community organizations in order to identify, formulate, and support policies that will give Arizonans better healthcare and raise the bar of knowledge.


Click here to see all the photos.

cancer

TGen finds clue to stop spread of lung cancer

Two cell surface receptors might be responsible for the most common form of lung cancer spreading to other parts of the body, according to a study led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

The hepatocyte growth factor receptor (HGFR/MET) and fibroblast growth factor-inducible 14 (FN14) are proteins associated with the potential spread of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), according to the TGen study published online April 8 by the scientific journal Clinical & Experimental Metastasis.

NSCLC represents more than 85 percent of all lung cancers, which this year will kill an estimated 159,000 Americans, making it by far the leading cause of cancer-related death. It has a 5-year survival rate less than 10 percent.

The invasive and metastatic nature of NSCLC contributes to this high mortality rate, and so finding the cause of this potential to spread is key to helping patients survive.

Therapies targeting MET and FN14 are in clinical development, which could lead to treatments that could help halt or slow the spread of this lung cancer.

“As the metastatic phenotype is a major cause of lung cancer mortality, understanding and potentially targeting these pathways may reduce the high mortality rate in advanced lung cancer,” said Dr. Timothy Whitsett, an Assistant Professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division, and the study’s lead author.

Significantly, the TGen study found that MET and FN14 were elevated in metastatic tumors compared to primary lung tumors and suppression of MET activation or FN14 expression reduced tumor cell invasion.

“The elevation of these receptors in metastatic disease opens the possibility for therapeutic intervention,” said Dr. Nhan Tran, an Associate Professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division, and the study’s senior author.

Dr. Glen Weiss, Co-Unit Head of TGen’s Lung Cancer Research Laboratory and Director of Clinical Research at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Western Regional Medical Center, said, “This study identifies some targets that already have drugs in clinical trials, and helps put them into context for what might be a rational drug development approach for the treatment of this deadly cancer.”

Other institutes that assisted with this study are: the University of Arizona; St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; and Humboldt Medical Specialists.

The study, FN14 expression correlates with MET in NSCLC and promotes MET-driven cell invasion, was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and grants from the St. Joseph’s Foundation and the American Lung Association.

stem.cell

TGen’s Barrett awarded $200,000 research grant

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) awarded a $200,000 grant today to Dr. Michael Barrett of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Dr. Barrett, an Associate Professor in TGen’s Clinical Translational Research Division, was one of 14 “outstanding scientists” across the nation named to receive a total of $5 million in grants for pancreatic cancer research.

The grants were announced during the AACR Annual Meeting 2014 in San Diego, April 5-9. With more than 34,000 members, AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research.

Specifically, Dr. Barrett was one of five scientists to receive a 2014 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Innovative Grant, “intended to promote the development and study of novel ideas and approaches in basic, translational, clinical, or epidemiological research that have direct application and relevance to pancreatic cancer.”

Dr. Barrett’s project, “Genomic drivers of therapeutic responses in metastatic disease,” will investigate the molecular underpinnings of how and why pancreatic cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
“The fundamental hypothesis of this application is that distinct clonal tumor populations that arise during the natural history of pancreatic cancer mediate the clinical responses in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Barrett said.

“The vision of our work is to bring together advanced genome technologies and the clinical resources available through TGen and our various collaborators to make an immediate impact in the lives of patients with pancreatic cancer and other malignancies,” said Dr. Barrett, who also is a consultant with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center-Arizona.

The grants support research into high-priority areas in an effort to reach the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s goal to double pancreatic cancer survival by 2020.

“The most promising science has been selected for funding through a rigorous peer-review process. This year’s grant recipients hail from leading institutions throughout the country and range from early career investigators continuing to build the field of pancreatic cancer leaders to more senior scientists,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Their collective efforts have the potential to answer important questions that could lead to significant scientific advances for pancreatic cancer, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. We look forward to working with our new grantees and welcoming them to our team.”

Pancreatic cancer annually takes the lives of more than 38,000 Americans, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. A staggering 75 percent of those diagnosed die within the first year, and only 6 percent survive more than five years.

“Pancreatic cancer is among the most deadly of cancers,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), and Chief Executive Officer of AACR. “With death rates steadily climbing over the past decade, more research into pancreatic cancer is urgently needed. The AACR is, therefore, proud to be partnering with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to support cutting-edge scientific research projects that have the potential to lead to major breakthroughs in the prevention, detection, and treatment of this devastating disease.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in collaboration with the AACR, introduced the grants program in 2003, and has since awarded 108 research grants totaling more than $22 million to bright and motivated scientists across the country with the goals of developing a pipeline of researchers dedicated to studying the disease, supporting innovative ideas and approaches, and enabling the organization to reach its 2020 goal.

dan-von-hoff

TGen expert honored for cancer research

Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, who has been instrumental in developing numerous new cancer treatments, is among this year’s recipients of the Award of Excellence from the Hope Funds for Cancer Research.

Dr. Von Hoff, M.D., FACP, who is Physician-In-Chief and Distinguished Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and Chief Scientific Officer for Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials, will receive the 2014 Hope Funds Award of Excellence in Medicine.

The Hope Funds for Cancer Research is dedicated to advancing innovative research for the most difficult-to-treat cancers.

Dr. Von Hoff is being recognized for his work over the past decade in the clinical development of many new cancer treatments. He was nominated by past recipients, and selected by the Hope Funds Board of Trustees.

His accomplishments will be celebrated April 24 at the 2014 Award of Excellence Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The gala provides support for programmatic activities and raises funds for postdoctoral fellowships in cancer research.

Dr. Von Hoff is a medical oncologist and oncology drug developer whose major interest is in the development of new anticancer agents. His clinical research is conducted at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership between Scottsdale Healthcare and TGen in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Among the other five recipients of the 2014 Hope Funds Award is Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. James D. Watson, best known as the co-discoverer in 1953 of the double-helix structure of DNA, a scientific turning point in the understanding of life. Dr. Watson is receiving a special Award of Excellence for Extraordinary Achievement. Other recipients of this year’s Award of Excellence are: Dr. Tyler Jacks for Basic Science; Dr. Charles L. Sawyers for Clinical Development; and Dr. Jan Vilcek for Advocacy.

“With the occasion to celebrate the greatest living scientist of the 20th Century (Watson) along with this year’s Honorees, plus our past Honorees, this will be a gathering of many of the greatest minds in the field of cancer research,” Dr. Malcolm A.S. Moore, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Hope Funds for Cancer Research, said in a press release.

At the gala, Hope Funds will present its Awards of Excellence in recognition of outstanding achievements in the fields of basic research, drug development, medicine, patient support and philanthropy.

“This event, a white tie dinner set in the shadow of an ancient Egyptian temple, will highlight a remarkable group of scientists who are making a radical difference in cancer research. It is truly an extraordinary experience,” Bill Rueckert, Honorary co-chair of the 2014 Gala said in a press release.

Dr. Von Hoff and his colleagues have conducted early clinical investigations of many new cancer agents, including: gemcitabine, docetaxel, paclitaxel, topotecan, irinotecan, fludarabine, mitoxantrone, dexrazoxane, nab-paclitaxel, vismodegib, and others. These treatments are helping many patients with breast, ovarian, prostate, colon, leukemia, advanced basil cell and pancreatic cancers.

“I am truly honored to be included in the company of such distinguished physicians and scientists whose work has been furthered by the Hope Funds for Cancer Research,” said Dr. Von Hoff. “This recognition not only celebrates past accomplishments, but also is a reflection of the advances we are making right now for the benefit of our patients.”

He and his colleagues are concentrating on the development of molecularly targeted therapies for individual patients with cancer. His other major accomplishment is the development of two specific treatments, which have improved the survival for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Von Hoff also is Professor of Medicine at both Mayo Clinic Scottsdale and the University of Arizona College of Medicine; and Chief Scientific Officer at US Oncology.

Dr. Von Hoff graduated cum laude from Carroll University, and received his M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, then completed a medical oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Von Hoff served a six-year term on President Bush’s National Cancer Advisory Board (2004-10).

He is a Fellow and past President of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s largest cancer research organization; a Fellow of the American College of Physicians; and a member and past board member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Dr. Von Hoff is a founder of ILEX™ Oncology, Inc. (acquired by Genzyme after Ilex had 2 agents, alemtuzumab and clofarabine approved by the FDA for patients with leukemia). He received ASCO’s 2010 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award for his outstanding contributions to cancer research leading to significant improvement in patient care.

economic development - 8 honored

TGen recognized as ‘2014 Economic Driver’

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce has selected the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) for one of its 2014 Impact Awards.

TGen was selected among small to medium business in the category of 2014 Economic Driver.

“These companies represent the spirit of the entrepreneur — a spirit that truly makes an impact on our community and our Chamber,” Todd Sanders, GPCC President and CEO, said in a press release. “It’s a privilege to honor those who continue to innovate, take risks, boost our economy and create jobs. Their ability, tenacity and sense of community are an inspiration to all.”

The IMPACT Awards honor the accomplishments of small and large businesses and the impact they have on the Valley’s business community and economy.

“TGen is honored to be recognized by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Through our research into the human genome, we strive to not only make an impact on the Arizona economy, but also endeavor — though precision medicine — to help develop new tools, capabilities and therapies that benefit our patients, and benefit Arizona patients first,” said Tess Burleson, TGen’s Chief Operating Officer.

This year, GPCC recognizes two recipients in each of four categories: Community Champion, Economic Driver, Entrepreneurial Excellence, and Response to Adversity.

Small to Medium Business Category:

2014 Community Champion: Native American Connections

2014 Economic Driver: Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

2014 Entrepreneurial Excellence: Risas Dental and Braces

2014 Response to Adversity: NJOY, Inc.



Large Business Category:

2014 Community Champion: Phoenix Children’s Hospital

2014 Economic Driver: Sundt Construction, Inc.

2014 Entrepreneurial Excellence: The CORE Institute

2014 Response to Adversity: Phoenix Zoo

The 2014 IMPACT Businesses of the Year will be selected from these honorees and announced at the 27th annual IMPACT Awards luncheon, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. May 15, at the Arizona Biltmore. For more information, visit www.phoenixchamber.com/impact.

brain

PCH, Barrow and TGen earn NIH grant

Under a new grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Barrow Neurological Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) are studying the role of extracellular RNA (exRNA) as biomarkers in hemorrhagic brain injuries.

The study is being funded by a $4 million grant that is part of an international effort to determine the roles of exRNA in multiple biological processes.

The Phoenix Children’s group will focus on the evaluation of intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) in newborns, a form of bleeding in the brain that affects approximately 12,000 premature babies in the U.S. every year. Perinatal IVH is commonly associated with the development of cerebral palsy and hydrocephalous. It’s unclear, however, how hydrocephalous develops and how IVH impacts the potential for developing cerebral palsy.

This study is aimed to identify the modulating effects of exRNA on these processes and if so, to develop a testing mechanism to help clinicians identify children who are at increased risk. The development of a prognostic tool would guide doctors to more effective and less invasive treatments.

Investigators at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital are evaluating a similar model in adults. They are evaluating the role of exRNA in the development of vasospasm following hemorrhagic stroke.

For a video explanation of exRNA, check out this video.

dan-von-hoff

SHC’s Von Hoff honored for cancer advances

In association with its 50th anniversary, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has named Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., FACP, one of ASCO’s 50 Oncology Luminaries, celebrating 50 doctors who over the past half-century have significantly advanced cancer care.

Dr. Von Hoff is Chief Scientific Officer for Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials and Physician-In-Chief and Distinguished Professor at Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). He is an internationally recognized physician and scientist whose research during the past 30 years has contributed to the development of many anticancer agents that are routinely used in clinical practice. Among these drugs are fludarabine, mitoxantrone, paclitaxel, docetaxel, irinotecan, topotecan, nelarabine, gemcitabine, vismodegib, and nanoparticle paclitaxel.

ASCO was founded in 1964 by oncologists to improve the care of cancer patients. Profiles of the 50 Oncology Luminaries are being featured on the ASCO website, and their accomplishments will be celebrated at ASCO’s 50th annual meeting, May 30-June 3 in Chicago.

Although it is difficult to pick one highlight of his career, Dr. Von Hoff and his team played an instrumental role in the development of gemcitabine, the first drug to improve the survival of patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. In 1997, they published the results of a clinical trial that showed that gemcitabine not only increased the rate of clinical benefit in patients with pancreatic cancer compared with fluorouracil (5-FU), but it also improved overall survival.

This work was followed by recognition of the activity of nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine against pancreatic cancer with the recent finding that that regimen also improved survival for patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. On Sept. 6, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved nab-paclitaxel as a frontline therapy for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

International clinical trials that led to the FDA’s approval were led by Dr. Von Hoff at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership of Scottsdale Healthcare and TGen, at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Von Hoff has also been instrumental in the concept of development of personalized therapy for patients with refractory cancer based on using molecular techniques to profile their cancers. This work included the initial clinical trials to determine what percentage of patients could benefit from that approach.

Dr. Von Hoff has spent the past 30 years of his career leading teams in phase I trials and the development of new therapies, first as the founding director of the Institute for Drug Development at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio, then as the director of the Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona. He also is Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and serves as Chief Scientific Officer for US Oncology.

When Dr. Von Hoff was awarded ASCO’s David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award in 2010, he took several minutes at the beginning of his lecture to memorialize all of the patients that he and his team had lost during phase I trials the previous year, mentioning several of them by name. The gesture reflected what Dr. Von Hoff named as the greatest accomplishment of his career: working hard to help as many people as he could.

“I have been extremely fortunate to have many great (and incredibly patient) teachers, mentors, and co-workers,” Dr. Von Hoff said. “Truly though I think the greatest teachers and mentors for me have been those I have been privileged to care for.”

81270218

LaneTerralever Wins Best in Class

Phoenix-based LaneTerralever earned three 2013 Interactive Media Awards (IMA) including a Best in Class award for Thunderbird for Good, and two Outstanding Achievement awards – one for Honeywell Aerospace and the other for Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

IMA is a competition designed to elevate the standards of excellence on the Internet, and is presented by the non-profit organization, Interactive Media Council, Inc. (IMC). IMC is a group of industry leaders made up of web designers, developers, programmers, advertisers and other web-related professionals.

“A key part of our business is solving our clients’ problems with the best solutions available,” said Chris Johnson, president of LaneTerralever. “Receiving industry recognition for doing so is particularly rewarding – especially for clients the caliber of Thunderbird, TGen and Honeywell.”

LaneTerralever created a website for DreamBuilder, an online business education program developed by Thunderbird for Good and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, specifically for women all around the world. Although the courseware was complete, the program was lacking an attractive website to house DreamBuilder and showcase it to students, partner institutions and the media.

LaneTerralever created a more aesthetically pleasing DreamBuilder website that is more functional for all users, including those with low bandwidth. The English version of the program, DreamBuilder America, received its website just in time to be announced at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America. The Spanish version of the website, using translated content, is expected to reach several thousand women in the coming years across the U.S. and around the world.

TGen, a non-profit organization focused on developing earlier diagnostics and smarter treatments, is a globally renowned leader in genomics research. TGen tasked LaneTerralever with consolidating its main website with its Foundation website, as there was a lack of efficiencies due to significant overlap and duplication with the two sites. A new website was instrumental for helping the organization achieve its online marketing and communication goals more effectively.

The new website provides a richer visual experience for visitors as they engage with the brand. It has a fully responsive design which adapts to the dimensions of varying screen sizes with seamless content integration to mobile devices. The site also provides a connection port with an e-mail marketing system and enables TGen staff to make updates and changes to the website, keeping content fresh and relevant.

Honeywell Aerospace leaders in products and services in the aviation category, required a website that would drive users with ease and accuracy through a highly developed taxonomy system. By segmenting audience members into different groups with specific interests and relevant content, the new Honeywell Aerospace website provides a powerful user experience not typically found in the aerospace industry.

cancer

TGen identifies key lung cancer enabler

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have discovered a protein, Mcl-1, that helps enable one of the most common and deadly types of cancer to survive radiation and drug treatments.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) makes up about 85 percent of the nearly 160,000 Americans expected to die this year from lung cancer, which by far kills more patients than any other type of cancer; accounting for more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths in the U.S. annually. The 5-year survival rate for advanced NSCLC is less than 10 percent.

In the absence of more effective targeted therapies, most lung cancer patients currently rely on platinum-derived chemotherapeutics, such as cisplatin, or radiation therapy.

Previous TGen studies have shown that excessive activation of a cellular signaling mechanism known as TWEAK-Fn14 is linked to the survival and spread of cancer cells.

In a new laboratory study published in the scientific journal Molecular Cancer Research, TGen investigators found that a protein called Mcl-1 helps enable TWEAK-Fn14, which in turn helps protect NSCLC tumors from being destroyed by radiation and drugs.

“Our study demonstrates that the expression of Mcl-1 is necessary to promote the TWEAK-mediated survival of NSCLC tumor cells,” said Dr. Timothy Whitsett, an Assistant Professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division, and the study’s lead author. “By deactivating Mcl-1, we believe we can give these lung cancer patients a better response to standard therapy.”

Employing a drug called EU-5148, laboratory researchers using lung cancer cell lines found they could block Mcl-1 function and halt the TWEAK-Fn14 cellular signaling mechanism.

“Inhibition of Mcl-1 function enhanced chemo- and radio-sensitivity in NSCLC cells. The depletion of Mcl-1 … was sufficient to abrogate the protective effects conferred on lung tumor cells by TWEAK-Fn14 signaling,” according to the study, Mcl-1 Mediates TWEAK/Fn14-induced Non-small Cell Lung Cancer Survival and Therapeutic Response, published online Jan. 27, and awaiting print publication on April 14.

“This work positions both the TWEAK-Fn14 cellular pathway and the Mcl-1 protein as potential therapeutic interventions,” said Dr. Nhan Tran, an Associate Professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division, and the study’s senior author. “Our evidence shows that, if we can bypass these mechanisms, it will be more difficult for these lung cancer cells to evade therapies.”

The study concludes that additional research of Mcl-1 and TWEAK-Fn14 mechanism is needed, eventually leading to clinical trials and more effective treatments that could reduce lung cancer mortality.

The drug, EU-5148, was provided by Eutropics Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge, Mass.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America (Goodyear) also contributed to this study.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

dan-von-hoff

TGen’s Von Hoff inducted into Joshua Lederberg Society

Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, Distinguished Professor and Physician-In-Chief of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), was inducted into the Joshua Lederberg Society for his work in developing the drug Abraxane for advanced pancreatic cancer patients.

The Lederberg Society is named for the late Dr. Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Prize laureate and leader in bacterial genetics whose expertise and guidance played a key role in the birth of Celgene, a global biopharmaceutical company that produces Abraxane.

Dr. Von Hoff, who is considered among the nation’s leading authorities on pancreatic cancer, will present a talk during his induction ceremony at 1 p.m. ET today at Celgene headquarters in Summit, N.J. This is the 7th induction ceremony of the Lederberg Society, which annually honors no more than two new members whose work has changed the practice of medicine.

“Dr. Von Hoff’s life long achievements in pancreatic cancer treatment and research are truly remarkable, but even more remarkable is his commitment to the patients who benefit from his tireless efforts on their behalf,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director. “I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Dr. Von Hoff.”

Dr. Von Hoff was the principal investigator of MPACT (Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Clinical Trial), a multi-year international study involving 861 patients, at 151 community and academic centers in 11 nations in North America, Europe and Australia.

The study, whose findings were published Oct. 31 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, found that Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel), when combined with the previous standard therapy, gemcitabine, significantly improved overall survival, progression-free survival, and drug response rates for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. As a result of the study, the FDA on Sept. 6 approved Abraxane as a front-line therapy for such patients. In December, the European Commission also granted its approval.

“This is a new standard for treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer that could become the backbone for other new treatment regimens,” said Dr. Von Hoff at the time of the FDA approval. “The fact that Abraxane plus gemcitabine demonstrated an overall survival benefit is a significant step forward in offering new hope for our patients.”

Abraxane wraps traditional chemotherapy, paclitaxel, in near-nano sized shells of albumin, a protein that the tumor could recognize as food. Once inside the tumor, the Abraxane may act like a “Trojan Horse” to release chemotherapy and kill the cancer cells.

Dr. Von Hoff also was the principal investigator for the first clinical trial of gemcitabine, the first therapy to show improvement in survival for patients with pancreatic cancer. The FDA approved gemcitabine in 1996.

The pancreas is a glandular organ behind the stomach that secretes enzymes to help digestion, and produces hormones, including insulin, which helps regulate blood-sugar metabolism.

Joyce Grossman 1 © Lillian Reid

The Voice of Development: Joyce Grossman, AAED

Joyce Grossman became executive director of AAED in 2011. She has a B.A. from the University of California-Davis and a M.P.A. from California State University, Sacramento. Prior to joining AAED, Grossman was a deputy director with the City of Phoenix. She helped in attracting the International Genomics Consortium/Translational Genomics Research Institute to Phoenix. AZRE caught up with Grossman to talk about the development issues that impact Arizona’s commercial real estate industry.

What is AAED’s mission?
AAED’s mission statement, “AAED serves as Arizona’s unified voice advocating for responsible economic development through an effective program of professional education, public policy and collaboration,” should actually be called an “action statement.” We are proud of our Economic Development Academy of Arizona, which provides quality professional training specific to Arizona. In 2014, we will award the AZED PRO designations to our first Academy graduating class. Beyond education, we are busy working on economic tools to strengthen our economy. To that end, AAED works with lawmakers and is visible at the state capitol.

Who are the members?
AAED has a statewide membership of 480. It is a tight-knit community that works collaboratively for a strong economy in Arizona. Fifty-three percent of the membership is comprised of economic development and workforce practitioners. The other 47 percent are service providers who work in support of economic development in the fields of real estate, banking, construction, architecture, engineering and communications. Membership is open and encouraged for individuals who have a vested interest in advancing the economic development success of Arizona. A benefit of membership will be the lasting business relationships that will come from joining.

What are economic developers saying about Arizona’s economy?
Our members are lacing them up and running. If you can get economic practitioners to stop long enough to talk, they will likely tell you building permits are up and the retail dollar continues to be strong. They tell me that their phones are busier than they have been in years with quality prospects. This is great news for a state that dropped from No. 2 in job growth in 2007 to No. 49 in 2010. I was gratified to read that Forbes Magazine and Moody’s Analytics recently ranked Arizona at the top of U.S. states for projected job growth over the next five years. One thing I know for sure is our members are in the economic development race to win projects that produce quality jobs for Arizona.

Any other observations?
Arizona is being lauded nationally for its comeback, particularly in the housing market. In addition, the health industry grew during the recession and continues to outperform other sectors for growth in the state at the moment. While I am optimistic about our economy, I would be remiss if I did not note that we still have pockets of high unemployment in rural areas of the state. AAED counts many rural economic developers amongst our ranks. We hold rural economic development roundtable discussions to learn what impediments are impeding economic development and our Governmental Affairs Committee uses the dialogue in development of our legislative agenda for the year.

How is AAED different from when it started 40 years ago?
AAED predated many of the economic development organizations that exist today. In the early days of AAED, then the Arizona Association for Industrial Development (AAID), the association organized annual sales trips that would include industry leaders, services providers and the governor of Arizona. As regional organizations and cities opened their own economic development offices, AAID evolved its mission to be in support of economic development through professional education, advocacy and a place for collaboration and networking amongst like minds.

bioscience

TGen’s Zenhausern is named an NAI fellow

Dr. Frederic Zenhausern, a Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and developer of a rapid DNA processor, has been named to the Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Zenhausern, Ph.D., MBA, will be inducted into the NAI Fellows by Deputy U.S. Commissioner for Patents Andy Faile, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, during the 3rd Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors, March 7, 2014, in Alexandria, Va.  Fellows will be presented with a special trophy and a rosette pin.

Zenhausern also is a Professor and Director of the Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. The center uniquely applies a combination of advances in nanoscience, microelectromechanical systems, molecular biology, and genomics to a new generation of biological tools and sensors based on nano and microscale technologies.

Applying interdisciplinary science approaches to medicine, Zenhausern’s work is aimed at early diagnostics of human diseases, in particular, integrating bioassay chemistries with several biomarkers and targets developed by researchers at TGen.. Over the years, his team has collaborated on multiple projects at TGen for designing bioanalytical  platform technologies to translate molecular analysis into clinical tools and, ultimately, promoting adoption of novel technologies for point-of-care diagnostics applications.

The Microfluidic DNA Analysis System (MiDAS), a desktop printer-sized box that is described as robust and user-friendly, is one of Zenhausern’s innovations. The integrated DNA analyzer can be transported directly to a point-of-care or deployed in a mobile setting, eliminating some of the issues that arise when collecting and shipping a specimen from a remote site to a centralized laboratory for molecular testing. The core technology is also enabling the rapid automation of preparation of a biological sample for interfacing with various high-resolution analytical instrumentations, such as Next Generation Sequencing. These emerging diagnostic tools in personalized medicine are being used the team of clinicians at TGen Clinical Translational Research Division.

A similar platform was configured for genomic assays ready for implementations in medical countermeasures against radiological and nuclear disasters, and also applicable in clinical settings for predicting which patients are most sensitive to radiation in guiding personalized treatment, and preventing the development of toxicities that may result from radiotherapy. These innovations are described in multiple patents with TGen co-inventors, which led to significant federal funding of Arizona academic institutions, and to generating commercial interest and licensing from multiple U.S. companies, also contributing to Arizona’s economic development.

Zenhausern has co-authored more than 70 scientific publications and is named on many pending and more than a dozen issued U.S. patents in various domains ranging from DNA sequencing to optical data storage. Zenhausern’s responsibilities also include leading clinical research at the personalized medicine research laboratory at Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute and serving on several corporate scientific boards and international consortia in life sciences.

Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.

The 143 innovators elected to NAI Fellow status represent 94 universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.  Together, they hold more than 5,600 U.S. patents.

Included in the 2013 class are 26 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 69 members of the National Academies, five inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and nine Nobel Laureates among other major awards and distinctions.

Academic inventors and innovators elected to the rank of NAI Fellow were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

bioscience

TGen's Zenhausern is named an NAI fellow

Dr. Frederic Zenhausern, a Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and developer of a rapid DNA processor, has been named to the Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Zenhausern, Ph.D., MBA, will be inducted into the NAI Fellows by Deputy U.S. Commissioner for Patents Andy Faile, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, during the 3rd Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors, March 7, 2014, in Alexandria, Va.  Fellows will be presented with a special trophy and a rosette pin.

Zenhausern also is a Professor and Director of the Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. The center uniquely applies a combination of advances in nanoscience, microelectromechanical systems, molecular biology, and genomics to a new generation of biological tools and sensors based on nano and microscale technologies.

Applying interdisciplinary science approaches to medicine, Zenhausern’s work is aimed at early diagnostics of human diseases, in particular, integrating bioassay chemistries with several biomarkers and targets developed by researchers at TGen.. Over the years, his team has collaborated on multiple projects at TGen for designing bioanalytical  platform technologies to translate molecular analysis into clinical tools and, ultimately, promoting adoption of novel technologies for point-of-care diagnostics applications.

The Microfluidic DNA Analysis System (MiDAS), a desktop printer-sized box that is described as robust and user-friendly, is one of Zenhausern’s innovations. The integrated DNA analyzer can be transported directly to a point-of-care or deployed in a mobile setting, eliminating some of the issues that arise when collecting and shipping a specimen from a remote site to a centralized laboratory for molecular testing. The core technology is also enabling the rapid automation of preparation of a biological sample for interfacing with various high-resolution analytical instrumentations, such as Next Generation Sequencing. These emerging diagnostic tools in personalized medicine are being used the team of clinicians at TGen Clinical Translational Research Division.

A similar platform was configured for genomic assays ready for implementations in medical countermeasures against radiological and nuclear disasters, and also applicable in clinical settings for predicting which patients are most sensitive to radiation in guiding personalized treatment, and preventing the development of toxicities that may result from radiotherapy. These innovations are described in multiple patents with TGen co-inventors, which led to significant federal funding of Arizona academic institutions, and to generating commercial interest and licensing from multiple U.S. companies, also contributing to Arizona’s economic development.

Zenhausern has co-authored more than 70 scientific publications and is named on many pending and more than a dozen issued U.S. patents in various domains ranging from DNA sequencing to optical data storage. Zenhausern’s responsibilities also include leading clinical research at the personalized medicine research laboratory at Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute and serving on several corporate scientific boards and international consortia in life sciences.

Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.

The 143 innovators elected to NAI Fellow status represent 94 universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.  Together, they hold more than 5,600 U.S. patents.

Included in the 2013 class are 26 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 69 members of the National Academies, five inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and nine Nobel Laureates among other major awards and distinctions.

Academic inventors and innovators elected to the rank of NAI Fellow were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

brain

TGen-Barrow-PCH study brain injuries

In an effort to lower medical costs, identify patients at risk for injury, and speed patient recovery, scientists will attempt to identify a molecular signal that indicates severity of brain-injury during a $4 million, five-year federal grant to Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

The molecular profile — comprised of RNA, the body’s relay messenger between DNA and protein — could help identify which patients are most at risk for vasospasm after hemorrhagic stroke.  Hemorrhagic stroke can occur as:

•    Subarachnoid hemorrhage, or the bleeding into the area between the brain and a thin membrane that covers it.
•    Ruptured brain aneurysm, which is an abnormal bulge or ballooning in the wall of an artery within the brain.

By identifying this RNA molecular marker, a new standard of individualized care could be established, enabling medical teams to respond more rapidly to quickly changing health conditions, and allowing earlier intervention to prevent a secondary injury from occurring.

“We hope this study will lead to less injury, less testing and cost, and shorter stays in the hospital,” said Dr. Yashar Kalani, M.D. and Ph.D., a resident physician in Neurological Surgery and assistant professor at the Barrow Neurological Institute and one of the study’s principal investigators. Additional investigators at Barrow include Drs. Robert Spetzler, Peter Nakaji, Felipe Albuquerque and Cameron McDougall.

Vasospasms are characterized by bleeding in the brain that causes irritation and nearby blood vessels to spasm and narrow. This decreases blood flow to the brain, which can result in damage or even death to parts of the brain.

Only about half of patients with brain-aneurysm ruptures survive, and those who do survive often are severely disabled for life. In the 10 days following such ruptures, blood vessels can narrow, leading to loss of oxygen, strokes and brain damage.

“If we knew what is happening during this period, we might be able to intervene and prevent the secondary injury,” Dr. Kalani said.

Barrow will provide patient care and collect blood and spinal fluid samples that will be analyzed by TGen. A recent TGen study showed spinal fluid could be sequenced for RNA biomarkers. Samples will be checked daily to compare and identify changes.

Another part of the study will be conducted at Barrow’s partnership with Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where researchers will investigate the effects of intraventricular hemorrhage — another form of bleeding in the brain — in newborn babies. Intraventricular hemorrhage in newborns occurs secondary to diminished blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain. Intraventricular hemorrhage is associated with the development of hydrocephalus and damage to the brain that can result in cerebral palsy or other types of motor and cognitive delays.

“This study will get us one step closer to learning what is unique in pediatric stroke so we can provide the best quality care and improve the long term outcomes for these children,” said Dr. P. David Adelson, one of the principal investigators of the study at Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“In addition, as this study progresses, we want to know how to identify children at risk, and how they differ from adults with similar conditions, this will not only help us to be more accurate at providing current treatments but to develop new ones.” said Dr. Jorge Arango, an investigator affiliated with Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and with the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

In the study of both adults and children, TGen researchers will use state-of-the-art sequencing — to analyze RNA transcripts, searching for biomarkers that could identify at-risk patients.

RNAs are cell molecules made from DNA that help create proteins.

“There has been an explosion over the last several years in our understanding of the functional and regulatory mechanisms modulated by RNA” said Dr. Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in TGen’s Neurogenomics Division and also a principal investigator in the study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We are very excited about the potential for extracellular RNAs to provide us with accessible information about the mechanism of disease, and in doing so, provide us with pre-symptomatic markers of disease,” said Dr. Matt Huentelman, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in TGen’s Neurogenomics Division and also a principal investigator on the project. “In the best-case scenario, these markers can be coupled with an improved clinical management of the disease, too. In a nutshell, that is what we are exploring under this new grant award.”

This type of study is now possible because of continuing improvements in optics and computer speed that enables TGen’s cutting-edge technology to sequence at ever-faster rates and at ever-lower costs. While it took 13 years and $2.7 billion to spell out the first human genome, such sequencing can now be done in a matter of days and for less than $5,000.

Additional partners in the study include: University of California, San Francisco; and Stanford University.

stem.cell

TGen-led study finds link to Parkinson’s disease

The absence of a protein called SMG1 could be a contributing factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease and other related neurological disorders, according to a study led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

The study screened 711 human kinases (key regulators of cellular functions) and 206 phosphatases (key regulators of metabolic processes) to determine which might have the greatest relationship to the aggregation of a protein known as alpha-synuclein, which has been previously implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Previous studies have shown that hyperphosphorylation of the α-synuclein protein on serine 129 is related to this aggregation.

“Identifying the kinases and phosphates that regulate this critical phosphorylation event may ultimately prove beneficial in the development of new drugs that could prevent synuclein dysfunction and toxicity in Parkinson’s disease and other synucleinopathies,” said Dr. Travis Dunckley, a TGen Assistant Professor and senior author of the study.

Synucleinopathies are neurodegenerative disorders characterized by aggregates of α-synuclein protein. They include Parkinson’s, various forms of dementia and multiple systems atrophy (MSA).

The study — SMG1 Identified as a Regulator of Parkinson’s disease-associated alpha-Synuclein Through siRNA Screening — was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

By using the latest in genomic technologies, Dr. Dunckley and collaborators found that expression of the protein SMG1 was “significantly reduced” in tissue samples of patients with Parkinson’s and dementia.

“These results suggest that reduced SMG1 expression may be a contributor to α-synuclein pathology in these diseases,” Dr. Dunckley said.

TGen collaborators in this study included researchers from Banner Sun Health Institute and Mayo Clinic Scottsdale.

Tissue samples were provided by the Banner Brain and Body Donation Program. The study was funded by the Arizona Parkinson’s Disease Consortium, which includes Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, Sun Health Research Institute, Barrow Neurologic Institute, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Arizona State University, and TGen.

The study is available at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077711.

quayle

Quayle elected to TGen Foundation Board

Former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, who served under President George H.W. Bush from 1989-93, was elected today to the Board of Directors of the TGen Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Vice President Quayle attended grade school and high school in Phoenix and Scottsdale and he and his wife, Marilyn, are now residents of Paradise Valley. He brings to the TGen Foundation his vast career experience in politics and financial investment.

“It is my honor to be selected to be a part of TGen and the phenomenal work this biomedical institute is doing to find better treatments for the most serious diseases affecting humanity,” said Quayle, who also is a former U.S. representative and senator from Indiana, and who today is chairman of Cerberus Global Investments, a private equity company with $25 billion under management.

TGen Foundation Board Chairman Bennett Dorrance welcomed Quayle, noting that he is instantly one of the best known among a cadre of top-flight Arizonans who serve on the non-profit panel.

“Today we welcome Vice President Dan Quayle to our TGen family with high expectations and confidence that he will further enhance our philanthropic reach across the nation and help fuel TGen’s genomic research of the world’s most pressing diseases,” Dorrance said. “We welcome his involvement, his extraordinary relationships and his business acumen.”

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director, also welcomed Quayle, whose term as Vice President (1989-1993) coincided with Dr. Trent serving as Scientific Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

“In 1990, the NIH and the Department of Energy joined with international partners in a quest to sequence all 3 billion letters in the human genome. Vice President Quayle is acutely aware of the importance of this public effort, and remains an advocate for genomic research and what is means for our patients,” Dr. Trent said.

TGen Foundation President Michael Bassoff said that the addition of Quayle to the TGen Foundation Board of Directors would undoubtedly be of huge importance to the future of the institute.

“He brings a powerful internationally recognized voice to advance TGen’s scientific research,” Bassoff said.

Quayle graduated from DePauw University in 1969, and received his law degree from Indiana University in 1974.

He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 at age 29; to the U.S. Senate in 1980 at age 33; and Vice President of the United States in 1988 at age 41, during which he made official visits to 47 nations and served as chairman of the National Space Council. He has authored three books, including Standing Firm, a vice-presidential memoir, which was on The New York Times best-seller list for 15 weeks.

Quayle also was a distinguished visiting professor of international studies at Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona.

At Cerberus, one of the world’s leading investment firms, he has been actively involved in new business sourcing and marketing in North America, Europe and Asia. His extensive global network of public and private sector decision-makers, combined with his investment expertise, has significantly contributed to the growth of Cerberus.

bioscience

17th U.S. Surgeon General joins TGen advisory panel

The 17th Surgeon General of the United States and President of Canyon Ranch Institute Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, today joined the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) advisory committee on rare childhood disorders.

Dr. Carmona’s role on the National Advisory Committee for TGen’s Center for Rare Childhood Disorders (the Center) will be to help incorporate genomic technologies into the standard of care.

The Center uses rapid genomic tests to discover the genetic source of childhood ailments. Many of these rare disorders have no name, and often are just a collection of symptoms with no apparent cause.

Dr. Carmona is the keynote speaker today (Oct. 15) as TGen celebrates the opening of its clinic for the Center at 3330 N. 2nd Street, Suite 402, Phoenix, Ariz.

“Modern scientific advances are uncovering the nature and causes of disease like no other point in history,” said Dr. Carmona. “I am honored to be invited to help guide TGen’s development of this unique Center — focused on children — that uses the latest DNA technology to understand and diagnose rare disorders at the molecular level and to develop treatments for patients who previously had few, if any, options for care.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of studying and applying genetic advances to improve the lives of my patients, and as Surgeon General of the United States, my team and I developed the successful ‘Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative’ with colleagues throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help more people connect the concept of family health history and genetics to their own lives.”

The Center’s National Advisory Committee (NAC) is a core group of advisors and supporters with a passion for helping children and families affected by rare and neglected pediatric diseases and disorders.

Dr. Carmona will serve on the NAC’s Scientific-Medical Advisory Sub-Committee, which focuses on helping geneticists and health care professionals to collaborate in order to incorporate genomic technologies into the standard of care.

“Dr. Carmona brings to TGen a wealth of experience, forged through first-hand treatment of patients and by driving innovative public health programming at the individual, national, and global levels,” said NAC Co-Chair David Harbour.

“We welcome Dr. Carmona as an internationally recognized physician and health policy expert, whose knowledge and experience will help the Center bring hope and answers to our young patients and their families,” said NAC Co-Chair Jacquie Dorrance.

Born to a poor Hispanic family in New York City, Dr. Carmona experienced homelessness, hunger, and health disparities during his youth. The experiences greatly sensitized him to the relationships among culture, health, education and economic status and shaped his future.

After dropping out of high school, Dr. Carmona enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967. While serving, he earned his General Equivalency Diploma and went on to become a combat-decorated Special Forces Vietnam veteran. After leaving active duty, he attended Bronx Community College of the City University of New York through an open enrollment program for veterans. He received an associate of arts degree. He then attended the University of California, San Francisco, where he received a bachelor of science degree (1977) and medical degree (1979). At the University of California Medical School, Dr. Carmona was awarded the prestigious gold-headed cane as the top graduate.

Trained in general and vascular surgery, Dr. Carmona also completed a National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship in trauma, burns, and critical care. A Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Carmona was recruited jointly by the Tucson Medical Center and the University of Arizona to start and direct Southern Arizona’s first regional trauma care system. Dr. Carmona would later become chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, a professor of surgery, public health, and family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department Surgeon.

In 2002, Dr. Carmona was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become the nation’s 17th Surgeon General. Dr. Carmona was selected because of his extensive experience in public health, clinical sciences, health care management, preparedness, and his commitment to prevention as an effective means to improve public health and reduce health care costs while improving the quality and quantity of life.

As Surgeon General, Dr. Carmona focused on prevention, preparedness, health disparities, health literacy, and global health to include health diplomacy. He also issued many landmark Surgeon General communications during his tenure, including the definitive Surgeon General’s Report about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Dr. Carmona has published extensively and received numerous awards, decorations, and local and national recognitions for his achievements. A strong supporter of community service, he has served on community and national boards and provided leadership to many diverse organizations.

In 2006, Dr. Carmona became Vice Chairman of Tucson-based Canyon Ranch, a leader in the health and wellness field and President of Canyon Ranch Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity dedicated to catalyzing the possibility of optimal health for all people by translating the best practices of Canyon Ranch and its partners to help educate, inspire, and empower every person to prevent disease and embrace a life of wellness.

Dr. Carmona is also the first Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the first Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Health Promotion and Entrepreneurship at The Ohio State University College of Nursing.

stem.cell

TGen identifies genes linked to unhealthy liver function

A groundbreaking study of nearly 2,300 extremely obese diabetes patients, led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), has identified genes associated with unhealthy liver function.

This is believed to be the nation’s first large-scale genome-wide association study in overweight patients with diabetes.

Results of the study, done in conjunction with the Geisinger Health System, will be presented at the 64th annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Nov. 1-5 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The study — Genome-wide analysis identifies loci associated with total bilirubin levels, steatosis, and mild fibrosis in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — looked at how genomic factors affect the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It was selected for presentation from among a record 3,139 submittals from around the world proposed for what also is known as The Liver Meeting 2013.

“These genetic factors could help us identify patients who are most at risk of developing non-alcoholic forms of fatty-liver disease (NAFLD), and which patients may be more likely to progress to severe forms of NAFLD, such as steatohepatitis (NASH),” said Dr. Johanna DiStefano, the study’s principal investigator and lead author. Dr. DiStefano is Director of TGen’s Diabetes, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases Division.

NAFLD is the build up of extra fat in liver cells, not caused by alcohol. It is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease. NASH is liver inflammation and damage caused by a buildup of fat in the liver, not caused by alcohol.

“Our results showed evidence for new genetic loci that may play a role in the biological mechanisms of NAFLD and NASH,” said Dr. Glenn S. Gerhard, a faculty member of the Geisinger Obesity Institute and a co-investigator of the study.

“We discovered genes that may help identify those patients most at risk for the types of liver disease so severe that they could require transplants,” said Dr. Gerhard, Administrative Director for the Institute for Personalized Medicine at Penn State University-Hershey.

Patients included in this study were those with extreme obesity enrolled in a bariatric surgery program.

The study identified evidence for association with markers in the neurocan gene (NCAN) on chromosome 19p12, and rs2501843 on chromosome 1.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) is the leading organization of scientists and healthcare professionals committed to preventing and curing liver disease. AASLD was founded in 1950 by a small group of leading liver specialists to bring together those who had contributed to the field of hepatology.

AASLD has grown to an international society responsible for all aspects of hepatology. Its annual meeting, The Liver Meeting, has grown in attendance from 12 to more than 9,500 physicians, surgeons, researchers, and allied health professionals from around the world.