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Alliance aims to boost biomedicine


June 01, 2007

Arizona’s bioscience efforts continue to grow through an extensive, statewide collaborative network of initiatives. Now, research capabilities are being allied around the state in a new effort to improve medical diagnostics and human health.

The Arizona Proteomics Alliance (AZPA), a statewide consortium, has been formed to advance the emergent science of proteomics, a science whose broad vision is to understand the biological role of the complete set of proteins in the human body, or proteome.

The initiative combines the expertise of nine leading Arizona institutions, including ASU, Banner Health, Barrow Neurological Institute, Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Intrinsic Bioprobes Inc., Mayo Clinic, Sun Health Research Institute, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona (U of A).

“This alliance places Arizona in the forefront of proteomics research capabilities and will no doubt have broad impact on biomedical research and personalized medicine,” said Jeff Trent, president and scientific director of TGen.

AZPA promotes a team approach to solving problems of significant biomedical interest, according to Michael Mobley, administrative director of AZPA and associate director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU. The alliance will advance the role of proteomics research in the understanding of human health and disease by creating a network of scientists who share resources and expertise.

“AZPA facilitates access to technical and intellectual resources that are rarely surpassed within the United States, and provides the state with a distinct competitive advantage in this field,” says Serrine Lau, scientific director of AZPA, director of Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the U of A’s College of Pharmacy, and a member of U of A’s BIO5 Institute. “We are pleased that the resources of the Arizona Proteomics Consortium at U of A will be part of this state-wide alliance,” Lau says.

The Mayo Clinic is also expecting to be able to expand its efforts and bring new diagnostic and treatment options to its patients as part of the proteomics initiative, according to Laurence Miller, director of research and the cancer center at the Arizona Mayo Clinic.

“The alliance will put Arizona in a stronger position to compete for federal and private research funding,” Mobley says.

The effort builds on the vast knowledge generated by the Human Genome Project, which has mapped roughly 25,000 genes. Each gene codes for the production of protein, but with all the modifications possible to both the gene transcript and protein, the human body could have well over a million different proteins, according to the Human Proteome Initiative.

This entourage of proteins, the proteome, is ultimately responsible for everything, good or bad, related to human health and disease. Developing tests to rapidly obtain protein profiles as a predictive marker for disease or identifying therapeutic targets benefit health care and medicine.

Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development at U of A, said that the pooling of technologies statewide would allow researchers to maximize capabilities and minimize costs in a field that requires the development of new research methods. For example, this collaborative effort is expected to foster an expansion of the cancer research initiative at Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, says Susan Edwards, president of the Arizona region for Banner Health.

A unifying research approach within the alliance is “integrative proteomics,” which involves advancing the processes, methods and technologies that elucidate the role of proteins within an integrated understanding of human biology, according to Mark Hayes, director of Arizona Applied NanoSensors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. “This means developing proteomics research capabilities so that they are complementary to other advancing fields like genomics, bioinformatics and clinical research,” says Hayes, who was an early champion for the expansion of regional proteomics and the formation of this alliance.

The alliance has just launched a Web site (http://www.integrativeproteomics.org/) where researchers can exchange information about resources and the important problems they are working together to solve.

“Collaboration is one of the things that sets Arizona science apart from other states, where competition is more often the rule,” says Joseph Rogers, president and senior scientist of the Sun Health Research Institute.

The important partnerships formed in proteomics are expected to not only expand research efforts and improve chances for greater funding, but also to promote the future recruitment and training of talented individuals for the field of health care in Arizona.