Early detection is the single most important factor in cancer survival, but current testing methodologies are limited. By combining work in optical engineering and oncology, Dr. Jennifer Barton is developing miniature endoscopes that employ novel optical imaging techniques to detect cancers sooner.
Below are some examples of ongoing BIO5 research projects focused on improving health and life in the 21st century and beyond. Visit our member profiles to learn more about their work.
Biomedical Optics and Imaging Innovations Promise Earlier Cancer Detection
A Novel Approach to Treating Type 2 Diabetes
Obesity, a known cause of Type 2 diabetes, often leads to accumulation of fat in the liver. By studying fatty liver disease in an animal model of obesity, Dr. Benjamin Renquist is elucidating how the liver communicates with the brain to influence metabolic changes seen in obesity and diabetes, potentially leading to new diabetes treatment strategies.
Genetic, Evolutionary, and Environmental/Social Basis of Disease
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common and recurrent gynecological condition affecting nearly 30% of women between the ages of 15 and 44. Dr. Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz studies how the microbiome of the female reproductive tract contributes to this condition and subsequent gynecological diseases, such as sexually transmitted infections and cancer. Her research will help to inform treatment and intervention strategies.
Treating the Untreatable Cancers of the GI Tract
Gastrointestinal cancers collectively represent one of the greatest public health challenges, accounting for more than one-quarter of all global cancer cases and more than 35% of all cancer-related deaths. Many of these cancers, including pancreatic and biliary, have been historically hard to treat. Dr. Rachna Shroff takes a novel genomic profiling approach to developing personalized treatments for these cancer patients.
New Treatments for Valley Fever
Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) occurs more in Arizona than anywhere else. Dr. John Galgiani recently developed the first anti-fungal Valley fever vaccine for dogs that may lay the groundwork for a human drug candidate to treat the more than 8,000 Arizonans who suffer from this often long-lasting and debilitating infection.
Creating a Physical Map of the Genome
Dr. Rod Wing and his lab, The Arizona Genomics Institute, specialize in building a physical map of a genome - a crucial foundation of any genome sequencing effort. Their efforts will allow scientists to locate and identify genes that can improve and strengthen crops and increase yield in order to help solve the Earth’s looming food crisis.
Nanotechnology in Personalized Medicine
Dr. Marek Romanowski translates physics into medical products that are at the forefront of personalized medicine. He's developed a tiny pillbox of gold that can easily float in one's bloodstream to deliver medicine exactly to the right cell - one that is sick with cancer - while avoiding healthy cells. In addition to delivering a drug, this technology can be used in disease diagnostics.
New Ways to Detect Water Contaminants
Identifying environmental water contaminants like lead is critical to public health and safety, but current methods are often slow and not easy to transport. Dr. Suchol Savagatrup is developing a quicker, more portable method to test water that uses oil droplets. His liquid sensors will change color when they come in contact with contaminants.
Using Stem Cells to Treat Parkinson's
Dr. Lalitha Madhavan studies stem cells and their potential to help understand and treat neurological diseases. She uses innovative patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies to develop biomarkers for early diagnosis and progression prediction, as well as novel therapeutics for individual patients living with Parkinson's disease.
Studying Fruit Flies to Treat Neurodegeneration
Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), causes the nerves that control muscle movement to stop working and eventually die, leading to weakness, paralysis, and death. Dr. Daniela Zarnescu studies the mechanisms of this degenerative disease in fruit flies. She's currently identifying potential therapies that can restore the neurodegenerative and locomotor defects associated with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Engineering Soybeans to Solve Hunger and Disease
Drs. Eliot Herman and Monica Schmidt are working with plant biotechnology to enrich and fortify crops. They are studying how their hypoallergenic soybean technology can be used to fortify everyday products to help feed populations, aid premature baby’s intestine formations, and help with degenerative eye disorders.
A Unique Way to Freshen Dog Breath
While many pet owners try to mask their dog's bad breath with toothpastes and chews, Drs. Eric Lyons and David Baltrus teamed up to combat the odor with a harmless bacteria strain. The team is currently working to improve the efficacy duration of the product from two to eight hours, as well as create other scent offerings.
Investigating Genetics and the Environment in Asthma
Reduced exposure to germs typically prevents a child’s immune system from developing the ability to naturally fight infectious organisms, but in the middle of poverty and underdevelopment in many neighborhoods in Sonora, Mexico, there is less asthma than in Tucson. Led by Dr. Fernando Martinez, the Binational Early Asthma and Microbiome Study (BEAMS) examines how the “hygiene hypothesis” affects pregnant women and their children’s risk of asthma.
Combatting COVID-19 Health Disparities
American Indian, African American, Hispanic and Latino people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, experiencing higher rates of illness, hospitalization and death. These racial and ethnic health disparities are greatest across 11 states, including Arizona. Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy is helping to lead a National Institutes of Health campaign, the Community Engagement Alliance program (CEAL), to build trust, increase awareness and education, and promote clinical trial inclusion among these vulnerable populations in AZ.
Genetically Engineered T Cells As Immunotherapies
The immune system fights harmful microbes with T cells that have specific receptors to recognize different signs of infection. A study led by Dr. Michael Kuhns found that a novel, genetically engineered T cell can target and attack pathogenic T cells that cause Type 1 diabetes, which could lead to new immunotherapy treatments.
Defining Normal Aging and Memory Loss
Far too little is known about the most basic mechanisms of how we remember things, or fail to, as we age. Dr. Carol Barnes studies the brain’s main center for learning and memory - the hippocampus - to determine the differences between healthy and diseased aging with the ultimate goal to help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
New Pathways in Skin Cancer
Dr. Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski is studying TLR4, a cellular receptor of the innate immune system that is often modulated by UV irradiation. She's also characterizing a cascade of recently discovered cellular messages that promote skin cancer development after sun exposure. Ultimately, her work will help to inform the formulation and testing of topical drugs, like lotions and creams, that target these messages to ultimately to prevent squamous cell cancer formation in Arizonans.