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ASU cancer researcher garners '40 Under 40' honors

portrait of ASU researcher Fernanda Festa in the lab
June 25, 2013

ASU Biodesign Institute postdoctoral researcher and cancer biologist Fernanda Festa has been named to the Phoenix Business Journal’s annual “Forty Under 40” list, which honors outstanding young leaders in the metropolitan area.

Festa, a native of Brazil, says that the main event that changed her life and gave her the passion to pursue cancer research was the loss of one of her staunchest supporters, her beloved grandfather, who succombed to glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor) when she was just 14. Ever since, Festa has immersed herself in the field, eventually completing her doctorate from the University of Sao Paulo while working at the laboratory of Mari Cleide Sogayar on the identification of gene pathways involved in the development of prostate cancer.

Next, Festa moved to Boston to join Joshua LaBaer’s laboratory as a postdoctoral research associate, initially at Harvard Medical School and now at the Biodesign Institute’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, which LaBaer directs. In the state-of-the art, high-throughput robotics lab, Festa works alongside a multidisciplinary research team of biologists, chemists, engineers, statisticians and database experts to identify and validate biomarkers – unique molecular fingerprints of disease that could vastly improve health care outcomes through the early detection of disease.

Festa has been heavily involved in improving a platform technology, called NAPPA, which LaBaer originally co-developed with colleagues to rapidly identify and validate biomarkers from the complete set of thousands of potential proteins – called the proteome – circulating in the human body at any one time.

“Everyone in the research community gets thrilled and impressed with the research platform we have developed,” Festa said. “This platform is extremely flexible and can be easily adapted for an unlimited number of applications.”

Her efforts have focused on improving every step of the technology so that proteome analysis can one day become a new standard of clinical care and medicine. Most recently, she has applied NAPPA technology to uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of cancer drug resistance for individuals with leukemia.

Members of the "40 Under 40" class will be featured in a special section of the June 28 print edition of the Phoenix Business Journal. In addition, a reception and honoree recognition program will be held June 27 at the Phoenix Art Museum to celebrate the accomplishments of this year’s class.

For the complete list of the class of 2013, visit:

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics research is supported by grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the National Cancer Institute branch of the National Institutes of Health and a $35 million philanthropic gift from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.