In the news / Technology Enabled Health

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A new University of Arizona Health Sciences-led study aims to develop a novel dietary assessment mobile app for researchers to use that will help study participants more accurately track their saturated fat and added sugar intake. The app will prompt participants multiple times a day to report their recent intakes from a list of commonly consumed foods and beverages that contribute the greatest amounts of saturated fat or added sugar in the American diet. The resulting data will give researchers a more accurate picture of food consumption, allowing them to make better recommendations to improve health and wellness.
 
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In recent years, there’s been a push by pharma to find nonaddictive pain therapies. In 2006, scientists described the curious case of a Pakistani boy who seemed immune to pain. It was discovered that the SCN9A gene provides instructions for making a “sodium channel” found in nerve cells that transmits pain signals to the brain, acting like a volume knob for pain. Now, a biotech startup wants to mimic this mutation to treat people with chronic pain using CRISPR. Dr. Rajesh Khanna, UArizona Pharmacology professor and BIO5 member who specializes in the study of chronic pain, weighs in on the research surrounding the Nav1.7 channel and use of CRISPR therapy.
 
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COVID-19 has led Arizona researchers, like UArizona Optical Sciences assistant professor and BIO5 member Dr. Judith Su to develop new technologies. Dr. Su created the FLOWER handheld device, which would allow patients to test themselves, detect viruses like COVID-19, and better test the use of drugs and treatments in patients.
 
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Dr. Joel Cuello, UArizona Biosystems Engineering professor and BIO5 member, led a cross-disciplinary team to develop the Air Accordion Photobioreactor, the sustainable tech utilized by the startup AlgaeCell, to produce microalgae for use in pharmaceuticals, supplements, and vaccines.
 
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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of countries have deployed digital apps attempting to identify people exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and stop onward transmission. Evidence that these ‘contact tracing’ apps work has been hard to come by. Now, studies from a handful of nations show mounting evidence that apps can help prevent infections and are a valuable public-health tool. One way apps could improve is in how they measure exposure risk, says Dr. Joanna Masel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, who is leading a pilot study of the COVID Watch app at the university.
 
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Statistics show relatively high usage rates for UArizona's exposure notification app, which helped curb the spread of the virus on campus. Public health experts say the digital strategy worked well because it was used in conjunction with traditional contact tracing, in addition to testing and isolation efforts.
 
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College of Nursing faculty is comprised of both nurses and scientists from other fields, creating a rich environment for team science, bringing their expertise to enrich research and education. Dr. Judith Gordon the college’s associate dean for research and BIO5 member, uses her health care background in behavioral psychology, and backgrounds in IT and theater, to work with Nursing students. They studyed computer science, working together to create the See Me Serene mobile phone app to study guided meditation for stress reduction and smoking cessation.
 
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Six UArizona College of Engineering researchers, including Biomedical Engineering assistant professor and BIO5 member Dr. Philipp Gutruf, were named as the first Craig M. Berge fellowship awardees to advance their research. Dr. Gutruf will continue his work to create devices that integrate with human biological systems for health diagnostics and neuroscience.
 
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Dr. Michael Worobey, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and BIO5 associate director, is hoping to add another tool to the university's testing arsenal – one that relies instead on a simple saltwater rinse and gargle. A new diagnostic test for coronavirus relies on gargling with saltwater instead of using a nasal swab.
 
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UArizona officials said that the campus’s wastewater COVID-19 detection technique — developed, in part, by UArizona WEST center director and BIO5 member Dr. Ian Pepper — possibly prevented a sizable outbreak on campus. Wastewater samples from the dorms have been regularly tested for signs of COVID-19 since students returned to campus in August.
 
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Since the University of Arizona opened its doors, more than 9,000 students, faculty and staff had been tested for COVID-19 and everyone on campus was wearing a mask. The school had even begun sampling its wastewater to quickly detect a potential hot spot. But the centerpiece in the school's preemptive battle against COVID-19 was the "Covid Watch" smartphone app, which uses Bluetooth technology to send an alert to someone's phone if they are exposed to the virus.
 
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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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A team of engineers and scientists is developing a solar-powered desalination system to recover water from concentrated waste streams with maximum efficiency. The team is conducting research using the Optical Sciences Center solar testbed.
 
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Thanks to a U.S. Department of Defense contract for as much as $9.5 million, UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and partners aim to develop a portable device to easily and accurately detect bio-threats, including COVID-19. This effort will be led by Dr. Frederic Zenhausern, director of the Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine and BIO5 faculty member.
 
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A record number of Tech Launch Arizona startups at UArizona were reported during FY2020. This was made possible through the innovations from 19 different startups by teams of world-class entrepreneurial researchers, including BIO5 members Drs. Minying Cai, David Harris, Victor Hruby, Doug Loy, Marty Pagel, Sairam Parthasarathy, Benjamin Renquist, Marvin Slepian, and Russell Witte.
 
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Dr. Kristen Pogreba-Brown, UArizona epidemiologist, BIO5 member, and lead of the Student Aid For Epidemiological Response (SAFER) program, shared her team's progress on developing contact tracing practices before students return to campus. She also spoke about the steps all people on campus will have to take to ensure the contact tracing program is effective this fall.