In the news / Precision Medicine

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Dr. Judith Su runs the UArizona Little Sensor Lab, where researchers are working to sense tiny amounts – down to a single molecule – of everything from doping agents to biomarkers for cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Lyme disease and, yes, even COVID-19. Dr. Su, biomedical engineering and optical sciences professor and a member of the BIO5 Institute, has received a $1.82 million, five-year Maximizing Investigators' Research Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
 
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On campus at the University of Arizona, researchers are trying to crack the cancer code. With the help of a grant from the American Cancer Society Dr. Jacob Schwartz, BIO5 member and assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is taking a closer look at the the behavior of the childhood cancer, Ewing Sarcoma. Dr. Schwartz also says it is helping them understand other cancers along the way.
 
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SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can relieve pain, according to a new study by University of Arizona researchers. The finding may explain why nearly half of all people who get COVID-19 experience few or no symptoms, even though they are able to spread the disease, according to the study's corresponding author Dr. Rajesh Khanna, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson's Department of Pharmacology professor and member of the BIO5 Institute.
 
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Sinus infections are one of the most common illnesses, so identifying the progression of the common cold to chronic disease lasting longer than 12 weeks is critical in creating therapies that slow the development of a disease affecting nearly 12% of U.S. adults each year. A group lead by Dr. Eugene Chang, vice chair and associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the UArizona College of Medicine, was awarded $2.24 million to study a protein in the respiratory tract with a genetic variation strongly associated with these ailments.
 
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Endometriosis is a chronic, often painful, gynecological disorder affecting 15% of U.S. women of childbearing age. This condition often causes higher incidences of infertility, miscarriage and stroke. Dr. Leslie V. Farland of the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has been awarded federal funding from the National Institutes of Health to study the association among endometriosis, infertility and risk of stroke.
 
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Innovative minds spanning several disciplines created partnerships to advance research and impact the lives of Arizonans at the second annual BIO5/BIOSA Faculty Industry Networking Event.
 
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In the case of colorectal cancer, the detection of early metastases to the liver is crucial for patient survival. A University of Arizona Health Sciences research team featuring Dr. Ali Bilgin is developing a novel imaging technique to detect the spread of colorectal cancer. The group aims to provide better outcomes for patients through the use of novel MRI methods to diagnose early tumor spread, providing patients and physicians greater treatment options, including non-surgical alternatives.
 
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Harnessing the power of technology, the BIO5 Institute will virtually connect University of Arizona faculty and researchers with representatives from biotech, biomedical, and life science companies at the FINE event on Thursday, August 13, 2020.
 
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Dr. Juanita Merchant, professor and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, received the 2020 Distinguished Mentor Award from the American Gastroenterological Association. Dr. Merchant is a cancer biology program researcher at the UArizona Cancer Center, an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and a renowned physician-scientist who has advanced the understanding of gastric response to chronic inflammation and colon cancer. Established in 2004, this mentorship award honors individuals for achievements as outstanding mentors over a lifelong career.
 
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The androgen receptor is the major driver of prostate cancer growth and survival. However, almost all patients relapse with castration-resistant disease (CRPC) when treated with anti-androgen therapy. Research from Dr. Cindy Miranti, professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Co-Program Leader of the Cancer Biology Research Program, discovered why these traditional therapies have failed in clinical trials to overcome androgen hormone-dependent CRPC.
 
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The University of Arizona will soon begin analyzing blood samples from hundreds of thousands of Arizonans to determine who has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and developed antibodies against it. The first phase of testing will begin April 30 in Pima County and will include 3,000 health care workers and first responders.
 
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To address the critical need of local COVID-19 data, a collaboration of researchers from UArizona Health Sciences & The Data Science Institute including BIO5’s Drs. Nirav Merchant and Sriram Iyengar, launched a 2-way texting system to gather valuable info to track the virus in Arizona. The application will assist with identifying areas where resources are needed.
 
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With $3.5 million in funding from the state, the University of Arizona is moving forward with plans to start producing blood tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies for the Arizona’s front-line workforce. The antibody tests build upon the work of UArizona Health Sciences researchers and BIO5 Institute members Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, professor and head of the Department of Immunobiology, and Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology. The tests will help determine how many people have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and have successfully built an immunity against it. Experts say as many as 50% of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 have experienced few to no symptoms of the disease.
 
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We all do better when we work together. Using cutting edge technology and big data analysis, the newly formed Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union (ACGU) will track the virus’ evolution and transmission. Co-founded by UArizona Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology head and BIO5 associate director Dr. Michael Worobey, the cross-university collaboration between NAU, TGen and UArizona is another example of how our combined strength will provide solutions to better Arizona.
 
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A team of UArizona Health Sciences researchers is studying whether or not certain copper-based chemical compounds could potentially stop the virus that causes COVID-19 dead in its tracks. The lab of Dr. Michael Johnson uses chemical compounds that deliver copper to disease-causing bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae and MRSA. The copper kills them. Building on the new COVID-19 findings, Dr. Johnson elicited the help of additional UArizona researchers including Drs. Koenraad Van Doorslaer, Wei Wang, and Elisa Tomat, to assist in the study as to whether or not these same compounds could block SARS-CoV-2 from even entering human cells or hinder their ability to replicate once they do.
 
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Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson have invented a new respiratory-assist device, or RAD, that provides fast, safe relief to those who experience difficulty breathing. Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, professor of medicine and chief of the UArizona Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Dr. Marvin Slepian, Regents Professor of Medicine and director of the UArizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, created the new device: a small-scale, low-pressure heliox rebreathing system that simultaneously removes carbon dioxide while appropriately adjusting for humidity as it recirculates gasses in a closed system. To battle one of the major complications of COVID-19, inflammation in the respiratory tract and lungs that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, the fast and safe application of a RAD can make the difference between life and death.
 
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Dr. Heidi Mansour, Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy and Director of Pharmaceutics/Pharmacokinetics, and Dr. Rick Schnellmann, Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology teamed up to create a reformulated version of Suramin -  the treatment of choice for sleeping sickness - for wound healing. Mansour’s expertise in drug delivery combined with Schnellmann’s pharmacological expertise led them to develop creams, ointments, hydrogels, nanoparticles, and viscous liquids to treat both oral mucositis and diabetic foot ulcers, providing an easy-to-use, self-administered alternative to injections.
 
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UArizona researchers and staff at all levels are working to assemble COVID-19 collection kits. Led by Dr. David T Harris, Arizona Health Sciences Biorepository executive director, UArizona Department of Immunobiology professor, and BIO5 faculty member, research staff had begun producing the kits over the weekend, ultimately assembling more than 1,600 kits. Dr. Harris said that while assembling the collection kits is fairly easy, it's finding the materials for those kits that's the difficult part. Despite already making nearly 2,000 of these collection kits over the weekend, Dr. Harris said staff aim to assemble 10,000 over the next two weeks.