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Grand Challenges

We are focused on solving problems. How do we prevent, treat, and cure diseases? How do we address the many environmental issues we face? What knowledge can be generated to promote healthy and sustainable ecosystems? How do we ensure water and food safety, and provide sustenance for an ever-growing world population?


Teams of Scientists

These kinds of grand challenges are very complex and require a team science approach to problem solving. The BIO5 Institute brings together multifaceted scientific teams that include world-class plant, animal and human bioscientists, engineers, physicians, and computational researchers. Below are some examples of teams working collaboratively to envision and develop bold solutions. See News to read more about our latest research innovations.

The Role That Genetics Plays In Valley Fever

The Role That Genetics Plays In Valley Fever

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Galgiani and Dr. Lussier

Dr. John Galgiani, director of the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious diseases is doing research under a $2.27 million dollar grant to study the immuno-genetic reasons why some people fall deathly ill after contracting Valley Fever, while others remain relatively unaffected. Dr. Yves Lussier, associate director of the BIO5 Institute, and associate vice president and director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics at the UA Health Science, is a co-investigator on the study specializing in big data and deciphering DNA sequences. Together they’ve determined that a gene mutation could be the reason why some are susceptible to fatal forms of Valley Fever, a novel discovery that will inform the creation of a preventative vaccine.

Project Investigators:

Understanding Obesity’s Effect On Asthma Treatment

Understanding Obesity’s Effect On Asthma Treatment

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Kraft and Dr. Ledford

Dr. Monica Kraft, department chair and professor of medicine at the UA College of Medicine—Tucson, and Dr. Julie Ledford, assistant professor of medicine, began doing asthma research while Ledford was still a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. Collaboratively, they have found that those with a higher BMI lack an important protein for people struggling with asthma, called SP-A. SP-A helps to reduce the lungs’ response to environmental irritants, like pollution. In their collective research, they were able to deduce that obese individuals have higher levels of cytokines that activate the immune system and suppress SP-A, thus leaving them with lower levels of this important protein. Without SP-A, asthmatics are unable to fight pathogens, making them more susceptible to lung infections. Along with Tech Launch Arizona, Kraft and Ledford are working to translate their discoveries into a new inhaler therapy that will revolutionize treatments for those with airway diseases.

Project Investigators:

Next Generation Genome Sequencing Aims To Help Doctors Personalize Treatments

Next Generation Genome Sequencing Aims To Help Doctors Personalize Treatments

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Hurwitz, Dr. Doetschman, Dr. U'Ren

Dr. Bonnie Hurwitz, UA Assistant Professor of Biosystems Engineering and BIO5 fellow, has combined both genomics and computer programming for her research in metagenomics, or the sequencing of whole communities of microorganisms within a sample. The ultimate goal of her work is for doctors to be able to sequence samples from patients to offer quick diagnoses and treatment plans. Her lab has worked collaboratively with BIO5 member Dr. Thomas Doetschman, UA Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Professor of  Cancer Biology, researching colon cancer. Hurwitz also works alongside BIO5 member Dr. Jana U’Ren, UA Assistant Professor of Ecosystem Genomics, in the Environmental Bioinformatics program, which is developing bioinformatics tools to support analyses at all computational levels aimed at answering questions related to the relationship between microbes, their hosts, and the environment.

Teaching Computational Methods To Predict Disease

Teaching Computational Methods To Predict Disease

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Lyons and Dr. Merchant

A class called Applied Concepts in Cyberinfrastructure, or ACic, is taught every fall semester at the UA by CyVerse co-principal investigators and BIO5 members Dr. Eric Lyons, Assistant Professor of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Dr. Nirav Merchant, Director of Biocomputing at Arizona Research Laboratories. The class, which utilizes technology from CyVerse, a National Science Foundation funded, UA-led computational resource, allows students to tackle real-world data challenges.  In the past, students have had the chance to create an interactive map that allows researchers to make predictions about areas that will see an abundance of mosquitoes, thus informing mosquito-borne disease risk. The map is one of multiple complete software systems created by the class that can now be utilized by scientists anywhere in the world.

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Creating A New Pain Medication To Combat The Opioid Epidemic

Creating A New Pain Medication To Combat The Opioid Epidemic

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Gokhale and Dr. Khanna

About 78 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose, and the nation’s opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency by the Department of Health and Human Services. Luckily, a team of researchers, including Dr. Vijay Gokhale, Senior Research Scientist at the BIO5 Institute, and BIO5 member Dr. Rajesh Khanna, UA Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Neuroscience, and Professor of Pharmacology, have co-founded a startup called Regulonix which has recently licenced a new class of non-opioid compounds to treat pain. Gokhale and Khanna are also the inventors of the new drug candidate, along with fellow co-founder Dr. May Khanna, UA Professor of Pharmacology. The new compounds are more effective at reducing pain than morphine, non-addictive, and non-toxic at high doses—the key to their effectiveness is a focus on the NaV1.7 sodium channel.

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Epigenetics Research In The Anti-Breast Cancer Properties of Soy

Epigenetics Research In The Anti-Breast Cancer Properties of Soy

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Romagnolo, Dr. Selmin, Dr. Doetschman

Donato F. Romagnolo, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences and cancer biology, and Ornella I. Selmin, PhD, associate research professor of nutritional sciences, are leading a team of researchers who are investigating how genistein, a component of soy foods, might suppress the development of breast cancer. They’ve found that a particular gene, BRCA1, when functioning properly, keeps DNA stable and protects against genetic diseases like cancer. However, if that gene becomes damaged and is “silenced”, then it is unable to do its job of suppressing tumors.

Genistein comes into play by protecting BRCA1, and when used as a therapeutic treatment can even unsilence an abnormally functioning BRCA1 allowing it to resume its role preventing tumors. Fellow BIO5 member Tom Doetschman, PhD, is a collaborator on the team, providing expertise with genetic models.

New Technology Targets Lifespan of Cancer Cells

New Technology Targets Lifespan of Cancer Cells

BIO5 Team of Scientist Dr. Gokhale and Dr. Hurley

A new drug aimed at shortening the lifespan of cancer cells has been invented by Dr. Vijay Gokhale, Senior Research Scientist at the BIO5 Institute, and Dr. Laurence Hurley, Associate Director of the BIO5 Institute. This new technology essentially induces cancer cells to get old and die by targeting gene expression, specifically through the creation of a drug that regulates the expression of a protein called telomerase. Similar technologies created in the past which control lifespan have taken several months to exert effect in cancer cells, however this novel invention promotes cell aging and death within days. The drug has been licensed to a new startup called Relegene, also co-founded by Drs. Gokhale and Hurley, with the aid of Tech Launch Arizona.

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