Category Archives: Science

Downtown Phoenix Lab Lands Key Role in Cancer-Gene Mapping

[Source: Ken Alltucker, The Arizona Republic]

A Phoenix medical-research group has landed two multimillion-dollar contracts that give it a key role in an ambitious U.S. project aimed at solving the genetic riddle of common forms of cancer.

In a development that underscores Arizona’s leading role in medical research, the International Genomics Consortium was awarded nearly $59 million to collect, process and store tumor samples for the federal Cancer Genome Atlas project.

The contracts also are a reflection of Arizona’s efforts to generate high-paying research jobs in the biosciences, local industry experts say.

“The key is that they selected Arizona for a leadership role for the second phase of this project,” said Dr. Robert Penny, IGC’s chief executive officer.

IGC said it has signed a five-year, $21.4 million contract to secure cancer-tumor samples for the Atlas project. It also has received a preliminary five-year, $37.5 million contract extension to continue its role as a tissue bank for the federal project.

The Atlas project aims to map the genetic clues of cancer that may yield new ways to treat or prevent diseases that kill more than a half-million Americans each year.

IGC’s contracts will help support the downtown laboratory’s staff of 45 scientists, lab technicians, project managers and office workers and add up to 10 more positions. Just as important as the local jobs, Penny said, is the potential for creating Arizona-based spin-off companies as researchers seek to develop new drugs and tests based on Atlas-generated information.

The non-profit IGC has been part of Atlas since the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute research project launched in 2006. IGC has served as the “biospecimen core resource,” where tumor samples are stored and clinical data collected and shared with other scientists who analyze molecular information from the tumor samples.

The scope of Atlas has been compared to the Human Genome Project, a 13-year project that mapped the genes in human DNA and was completed in 2003. Scientists have used the Human Genome Project to understand diseases and develop new drugs.

The Atlas project started as a three-year pilot focused on brain, lung and ovarian cancers. The second phase of the project, funded with $275 million in federal stimulus dollars, will be expanded to 20 types of cancer.

Scientists involved in cancer research say the federal research project is vital to track all the genetic malfunctions that can trigger cancer.

“We must understand the cancer genome and we must understand it for all the common tumors,” said Dr. David Alberts, director of the University of Arizona’s Arizona Cancer Center. “If we don’t approach it in a global way, we will miss opportunities.”

Penny said the Phoenix lab will expand its ties with Arizona hospitals. IGC already secures tumor samples from Scottsdale Healthcare and has held preliminary talks to forge similar arrangements with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Banner Health and University Medical Center in Tucson. IGC also will gather tissue samples from as many as 14 out-of-state hospitals and train workers at participating hospitals about its tissue-collection protocols.

Samples are sent to IGC’s downtown Phoenix lab, processed and stored in liquid-nitrogen containers.

IGC sends the tumor and corresponding clinical information about the patients to research centers where the genetic information is sequenced and characterized. The genetic information eventually will be made public and available to all scientists.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus, Ohio, also was named as a contractor for the tissue bank part of the project, with an initial contract worth $5.5 million. It is likely that other groups will be involved in collecting tissue samples.

More than a dozen universities and research labs will handle different aspects of the Atlas project, such as genetic sequencing and data analysis.

Metro Phoenix bioscience experts say the Atlas project brings recognition to local efforts to add research jobs and make medical breakthroughs in Arizona.

“To land federal research grants of this scope is illustrative of the national role that Arizona organizations are playing in the biosciences,” said Jack Jewett, president and chief executive officer of Flinn Foundation, which has invested in and promoted the biosciences in Arizona.

IGC Chairman Richard Mallery launched IGC nearly a decade ago after his wife died of cancer. The downtown lab was an initial anchor of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which also includes the Translational Genomics Research Institute, the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and other public and private-research groups.

Enhanced by Zemanta

ASU researcher outlines strategies to curb urban heat island (downtown Phoenix cited)

[Source: EurekaAlert] — Protect yourself from the summer sun is good advice to children who want to play outside on a hot summer day and it is good advice to cities as a way to mitigate the phenomenon known as urban heat island.  For children, a hat, long sleeves and sun block provide protection.  For cities, it might be canopies, additives to construction materials and smarter use of landscaping that helps protect it from the sun, said Harvey Bryan, an ASU professor of architecture.  Bryan presented several possible strategies a city could use to help it fight urban heat island (UHI) in a presentation he made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in San Diego, Feb. 18 – 22.  Bryan’s presentation, “Digital Simulations and Zoning Codes: To Mitigate Urban Heat Island,” was presented on Feb. 21 in a session on Urban Design and Energy Demand: Transforming Cities for an Eco-Energy Future.

Urban heat island is a phenomenon experienced by large cities, especially those located in desert areas, where the constant heat of the day is absorbed by the buildings, pavement and concrete.  The result is a rise in nighttime low temperature for a city’s core from the stored heat of the day.  The higher nighttime temperatures mean more cooling is required for residents’ comfort, resulting in increased power demand and potentially more greenhouse gases emitted.  Phoenix, where summer nighttime temperatures often do not go below 90 F, is a classic example of the UHI, Bryan said.

Citing work he participated in about a year ago – with Daniel Hoffman, an ASU professor of architecture and Akram Rosheidat, an ASU doctoral student – which focused on ways of improving pedestrian comfort in downtown Phoenix, Bryan outlined several methods a city can employ that will help alleviate the UHI.  Shade, not surprisingly, is one of the prime tools.  “Canopies to shade streets and sidewalks keep the concrete and asphalt cooler,” Bryan explained.  “Interestingly, sidewalks in downtown Phoenix during the early 1900s were canopied.”

Bryan said another key aspect is being smart on material choices for the canopies.  “In addition to shading devices, color and thermal properties are also important considerations,” Bryan said.  “Lighter colors are best for any surface in the Valley. You also have to consider the heat capacity of the materials – denser material will absorb heat during the day and are slow at re-emitting at night.”

In areas that cannot be canopied, Bryan said material additives use could play an important role.  Phoenix, for example, has a large number of parking lots and streets that constantly absorb daytime heat. “Introducing additives, like crumb rubber to asphalt and concrete, are ways of reducing heat capacity at the surface and making for a better nighttime profile,” he said.  “The important part is to look at materials performance more than just during the daytime.  We need a 24-hour profile to see how materials absorb heat during the day and how they emit it during the evening.  We then look for materials that are reflective during the day and highly emitting during the evening.”

All of this points to modeling as an important tool in mitigating UHI.   “It comes down to how we model the downtown and how we look at various scenarios with different materials using models that accurately simulate the radiative phenomena,” Bryan explained.  “Most cities have never used such powerful tools to find solutions to UHI.”

Arizona Science Center gains Phoenix History Museum’s assets

[Source: Kathleen Gormley, Arizona Republic] — The Arizona Science Center has acquired the assets of the Phoenix Museum of History under a new operating agreement that also gives it the right to occupy the museum’s building.  The Phoenix Museum of History, 105 N. Fifth St., closed its doors June 30 because of financial problems.

The science center, 600 E. Washington St., has agreed to provide at least 5,400 square feet of space dedicated to Phoenix history in one of the two buildings, city officials said.  The history museum totals 20,000 square feet.

The Phoenix City Council approved the agreement Wednesday in which the science center will operate both buildings.  The city owns the buildings and is responsible for maintenance of them.  The museums pay rent to the city to occupy the buildings.  “This is not a merger,” said Ruth Osuna, deputy city manager.  “It is a transfer of assets of the Museum of History to the science center.”

The museum, which has been looking for a financial partner, contacted the Arizona Science Center about a partnership “about 17 or 18 months ago,” said Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO of the science center.  Kristin Priscella, science center senior director of communications, said the science center is “working on a plan to catalogue the artifacts that were part of the history museum’s asset acquisition.”  She said a reopening date for the history section is to be determined.  [Note: Read the full article at Arizona Science Center gains Phoenix history museum’s assets.]

Federal grants to fund major downtown Phoenix cancer study, other projects

[Source: Ken Alltucker, Arizona Republic] — A downtown Phoenix laboratory will claim a share of $275 million in federal research grants that will drive a massive study of the genetic roots of cancer.  The International Genomics Consortium, at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, said the cancer-research project called the Cancer Genome Atlas will allow the biomedical research lab to more than triple its workforce of 45 employees.

Lab managers still do not know how much money they will get, but the scope of the project could require IGC to add more than 100 high-paying jobs such as scientists and lab technicians to downtown Phoenix.  “It’s a remarkable award for Arizona,” said Robert Penny, IGC’s chief operating officer.  “This is a big honor for us to be part of this bold initiative.”

Although the Atlas project could be the largest new science project for Arizona, research labs across the state will be buzzing with activity due to a new batch of federal stimulus grants.  Arizona scientists secured 101 research grants that are collectively worth more than $33 million, a Republic analysis of National Institutes of Health records shows.  The grants are part of a $5 billion infusion of stimulus funds announced last week by President Barack Obama.  [Note: Read the full article at Federal grants to fund major downtown Phoenix cancer study, other projects.]

Economic benefits of downtown Phoenix’s TGen more than doubled in 2 years

[Source: Betty Beard, Arizona Republic] — A new study shows that TGen, the downtown Phoenix-based bioscience research group, last year produced about $8 for every $1 invested by the state — more than twice its economic benefits of two years earlier.  The study by the Tripp Umbach company in Pittsburgh estimates that the 2008 economic benefit reached $77.4 million, compared with $21.7 million in 2006.  TGen’s economic benefits have grown because it has almost 300 employees, its research has helped create or incubate seven companies to commercialize technology, it contracts with outside businesses such as software developers, and the bulk of its $65 million annual budget comes from federal and corporate grants.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute, as it is officially known, commissioned the 2006 and 2008 studies to show that the state and public investments that created TGen in 2002 have more than paid for themselves and continue to produce results, said Jeffrey Trent, TGen president and research director.  Arizona pays about $5.5 million a year into TGen, using tobacco funds earmarked for health research.  Phoenix contributed the building, and the group receives substantial donations, such as $685,000 awarded by Safeway earlier this year for breast-cancer research.

Even though TGen continues to attract multimillion-dollar contracts and grants, Trent said he hopes the group can continue to receive money from the state earmarked for medical research.  It expects to continue receiving the $5.5 million a year through 2012.  “We are focusing on leveraging state dollars vs. replacing state dollars,” Trent said.  “Bioscience was never intended to be the sole component that would change the economy in Arizona.  But I think it is an important knowledge-based pillar that the state has invested in, and I think if it continues to invest, it is likely to have an economic impact.”

The Tripp Umbach report released Tuesday said that TGen operations in 2008 produced $8.09 for every $1 invested by the state, 461 direct and indirect full-time jobs, $2.7 million in state taxes and a direct annual economic benefit of $44.5 million.  Adding the business spin-offs and commercialization, TGen produced about $14.07 for every $1 in state investment, $5.7 million in taxes and $77.4 million in total annual economic impact. [Note: Read the full article at Economic benefits of downtown Phoenix’s TGen more than doubled in 2 years.]

UA seeks new downtown Phoenix partner as St. Joe’s links with Creighton

[Source: Angela Gonzales, Phoenix Business Journal] — The University of Arizona is canceling talks with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center to jointly develop a cancer center in downtown Phoenix now that St. Joe’s has forged a solid academic affiliation with Creighton University School of Medicine.  Dr. William Crist, UA’s vice president for health affairs, said he is concerned there won’t be enough room for UA medical students because St. Joe’s agreed to make Creighton’s 84 medical students a priority.  “We’re not mad,” he said.  “We’re still friends.  But there can only be one primary affiliate partner.”

Suzanne Pfister, vice president of external affairs for St. Joe’s, said she’s disappointed.  “But we’ve still got a number of collaborations with them,” she said, adding that St. Joe’s will continue to grow its cancer program.

Crist said UA has solid partnerships with the majority of the Valley’s hospitals, including Banner Health, Carl T. Hayden Medical Center, Maricopa Integrated Health System, Mayo Hospital, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and Scottsdale Healthcare.  His job will be to see which of those facilities will be willing to partner with UA to help finance the expansion of its cancer center in Phoenix.  “Plenty of people are interested,” Crist said.  “We are talking to a lot of people to get the best plan.”

He said the cancer center most likely would be built near the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which houses the medical school and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.  He envisions an outpatient center that would be anywhere from 200,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet, offering medical oncology, laboratory testing, imaging and radiation therapy.  “We have relationships with almost every health system in town in terms of rotating medical students,” Crist said.  “The only question is who has the capacity to be a primary affiliate partner when we expand and develop more than ever before.”  [Note: Read the full article at UA seeks new downtown Phoenix partner as St. Joe’s links with Creighton.]

Register for UA’s Mini-Med School in downtown Phoenix

[Source: University of Arizona] — Sex, lies, and venomous creatures! Now is your chance to experience medical school without the homework, exams and tuition. The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University Mini-Medical School is a vital tool to educate the community about the medical college and the research taking place on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus.  It also provides community members with a hands-on medical school experience.  This is an opportunity to learn about medicine, current health issues, and the medical curriculum in a way that is fun and understandable, such as why patients and physicians sometimes avoid telling the truth or which area hospitals carry the scorpion anti-venom.

This popular evening series is registering for the spring session, which begins Feb. 18 and continues each Wednesday evening through March 4.  Leading faculty members from the College of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix and other institutions will present interactive lectures on subjects related to curriculum experienced by medical school students.  Following is the spring schedule:

  • Feb. 18 – “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: The Need for Ethics in a Health-care Setting” presented by David Beyda, MD, Phoenix Children’s Hospital
  • Feb. 25 – “Sex and Cardiovascular Disease: Everything You Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask!” presented by Taben Hale, PhD, College of Medicine – Phoenix
  • Oct. 22 – “Scorpion Antivenom in Arizona” presented by Leslie Boyer, MD, College of Medicine and Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (Tucson)

Other details:

  • DATE/TIME: Beginning Feb. 18 – every Wednesday for three weeks.  All classes are from 6 – 8 p.m.
  • PLACE: College of Medicine – Phoenix, 550 E. Van Buren St. (corner of Seventh Street & Van Buren Street in downtown Phoenix)
  • COST: The three-week series is $75 (includes lecture materials and a light dinner).  Early registration is recommended as space is limited. Call Barbara Quinlan at 602-827-2024 to register or for more information.

Light-speed computer connection between downtown Phoenix and Tempe will slash genetic data transfer time

[Source: Science Daily] — Hot on the heels of a new supercomputer, plans for a new light-speed data line between the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Arizona State University could slash the time is takes to transfer genetic information.  Accelerating the flow of information could help speed discoveries that eventually could help produce treatments and cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autism, diabetes, and various cancers.

Because of the huge amounts of data generated by TGen’s experiments, it now take as long as 12 days using conventional cables to transmit 7 terabytes of information from a typical experiment 10 miles between TGen’s downtown Phoenix labs and ASU’s new Saguaro 2 supercomputer in Tempe.  But through a partnership between ASU and Obsidian Strategics Inc., an Edmonton, Alberta-based defense-intelligence contractor, the same voluminous data — the equivalent of 3.5 million iPod songs — soon could be transmitted in as short as 1 hour.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Google’s decision to leave metro Phoenix spotlights need for diversification

[Source: Chad Graham, Arizona Republic] — Google Inc. arrived on Arizona State University’s campus in 2006, creating a sensation and the promise of hundreds of high-quality jobs.  Tempe was one of 50 sites around the world with one of the search giant’s engineering offices.  One employee bragged to The Arizona Republic about the “culture of creativity.”  That culture disappeared on Friday when Google announced plans to close the office and allow the 50 employees to relocate to California or New York.  That relatively minor job loss won’t rock the economy.  But what if Google had stayed?

In a small way, the company might have helped to further more collaboration and innovation between the best and brightest at ASU.  That might have translated into new firms and products.  Because like begets like, more innovative companies (employing computer scientists, engineers, alternative energy entrepreneurs, and high-tech health-care professionals) might have been attracted to the innovation coming out of the Valley.  Those workers would create new products and new ideas that could be sold in the global marketplace.  That would create new, diverse streams of revenue flowing into Arizona’s economy from around the world.

OK, maybe Google’s tiny office wouldn’t have had such a major impact, but there’s nothing to lose in this awful economy by playing the “what-if” game.  In the past year, Phoenix has paid dearly for its decades-long addiction to housing and growth.  During the boom times, the region almost overdosed.  And it did little to diversity its economy and retrain workers for the jobs of the new century.  Home prices have fallen rapidly, foreclosures have skyrocketed and unemployment is up.  The credit crunch has dried up money for development.  Consumers have run out of money to shop and sales-tax revenue has plummeted.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Despite rocky start, downtown Phoenix medical school presses on

[Source: Ken Alltucker, Arizona Republic] — Arizona leaders see the new University of Arizona medical-school campus in downtown Phoenix as an anchor of a biomedical hub that will train more doctors, foster cutting-edge research and spur the state’s economy.  But as 48 students usher in the Phoenix college’s second year of instruction, much has changed from the original vision.  The medical school’s leadership is being overhauled.  Plans for a new downtown teaching hospital have stalled.  And the school’s Tucson faculty members have raised questions about whether the Phoenix campus will take away limited resources.

University officials acknowledge a rocky start in some respects for the nearly 2-year-old Phoenix campus.  “Any new concept will have some growing pains,” said Robert Bulla, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents and a regents committee overseeing development of the biomedical campus.  “I am not disappointed that it has been slow, but it has taken a little longer than I hoped to get things in place,” Bulla added.

Still, no one doubts the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University has made significant strides since its official October 2006 dedication.  The school has assembled its curriculum, hired faculty and welcomed the first two classes of medical students.  It also has secured funds to pursue an ambitious expansion that will add a new educational and a state-of-the-art research lab that will be shared by the state’s three public universities.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]