ASU to manufacture neuronal cells needed to develop treatments for neurodegenerative diseases

January 24, 2018

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people around the world. In the U.S. alone, more than 5 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2050, that number could reach 16 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease also is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Arizona State University will soon begin development of a biomanufacturing platform that will allow researchers to generate human neurons that can be used to develop and test treatments for devastating neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Download Full Image

The $5 million project — $1.4 million of which will be spent at ASU — will be a collaboration among ASU Assistant Professor of Engineering David Brafman’s laboratory; Massachusetts-based Biogen, Inc., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies; and Trailhead Biosystems, an Ohio-based biotechnology company. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute.

“There is much excitement about the potential of human pluripotent stem cells to treat numerous devastating diseases. While the public is more familiar with the tissue and organ replacement aspects of pluripotent stem cell research, these cells also have tremendous utility in developing pharmacological interventions to combat these diseases,” Brafman said. “As such, the focus of this project will be to develop the biomanufacturing processes needed to engineer the various neural cell types needed for drug screening.”  

The biomanufacturing platform the team will assist with large-scale generation of the neuronal subtypes required to develop small molecule therapeutics. 

“The investment from DoD’s ARMI recognizes the power of public-private partnerships to take on and address serious health challenges,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovative officer at ASU. “ASU’s growing leadership in this field, combined with the strengths of our partners Biogen, Inc. and Trailhead Biosystems, will bring innovative solutions to the fore, impacting the future of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.”

Leslie Minton

Valeria Fernández wins inaugural American Mosaic Journalism Prize

January 24, 2018

Valeria Fernández, a veteran independent multimedia journalist who leads an innovative Spanish-language journalism program at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an inaugural recipient of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

She is one of two journalists to receive the honor, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000 for each winner. Independent journalist Jaeah Lee, a 2017 senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, is the other recipient. Valeria Fernandez Veteran independent multimedia journalist Valeria Fernández. Photo by Drew Bird Download Full Image

The American Mosaic Journalism Prize recognizes excellence in long-form, narrative or deep reporting on stories about underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the present American landscape. It is awarded to two freelance journalists of print, digital, audio and/or television, based on a collection of work published or aired over the past year.

At the Cronkite School, Fernández leads Cronkite Noticias, a multiplatform news experience in which students report on important issues in Spanish. Cronkite Noticias includes a newscast that regularly airs on Univision Arizona and a multiplatform website —  — that focuses on education, sustainability, immigration and other issues important to the region’s Latino communities.

Fernández has been reporting on Arizona’s immigrant community and the many angles and faces of the immigration debate for more than 15 years. She has produced reports for CNN Español, CNN International, Radio Bilingue, PRI’s “The World,” Al Jazeera English, The Guardian and The Associated Press. Her recent work includes a story for the Phoenix New Times in which she detailed the mental health struggles of a new immigrant in Arizona.

“As a Latina immigrant journalist, who speaks Spanish as a first language, I'm humbled to receive this recognition,” Fernández said. “I hope it will bring attention to the voices of the women and the communities that I have dedicated my reporting on. As a professor, I can only wish it inspires students, especially students of color, to see their culture and their roots as strengths to ground their work, so they also work to listen to unrepresented voices, pursue nuanced stories, and become a force for understanding.”

Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan called Fernández “a tremendous journalist who has made a significant impact on our region with her powerful stories about immigration and other issues of concern to Latino communities. Her example and her guidance is helping develop the next generation of Spanish-language journalists who will carry on this important work.”

Confidential nominations for the prize were sought from more than 50 journalism leaders from across the country. Recipients were selected by a panel of judges representing some of the country’s leading media outlets.

“Fernández’s work stands as testament to the trust people have in her to tell their stories with accuracy and compassion,” the judges said. “Her journalism benefits from the kind of access that comes from years of relentless beat reporting. She brings great depth to stories of people who are often the most difficult for journalists to access, including families broken apart by the immigration system, and a new immigrant’s struggles with mental health.” 

Earlier in her career, Fernández co-directed and produced “Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies during a workplace immigration raid. The film won the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary at the Arizona International Film Festival. It aired on Al Jazeera America in 2013 and was an official selection of the DocsDF Mexican Film Festival.

Fernández also co-directed six short award-winning documentaries along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as part of the international web-documentary Connected Walls in 2014–15.

In 2015, she was a producer and reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on a digital multimedia project that cast light on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico that broadcast in PBS, San Diego. The multimedia project won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting.

She also is a fellow for the Adelante Initiative of the International Media Women Foundation, where she covers issues at the intersection of trauma, deportation and migration.

The Heising-Simons Foundation is a family foundation based in Los Altos, California. The foundation works with its many partners to advance sustainable solutions in climate and clean energy, enable groundbreaking research in science, enhance the education of our youngest learners, and support human rights for all people. For more information visit

The Cronkite School is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs. The school’s 2,000 students regularly lead the country in national journalism competitions. They are guided by faculty comprised of award-winning professional journalists and world-class media scholars. Cronkite’s full-immersion professional programs give students opportunities to practice what they’ve learned in a real-world setting under the guidance of professionals.