ASU faculty issue sustainability call at Nobel Symposium

June 27, 2011

ASU scientists sign Stockhold Memorandum, call for global sustainability action

ASU’s Sander van der Leeuw and Elinor Ostrom joined Nobel Laureates, policymakers, and leading sustainability experts at the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Sustainability held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm May 16-19, 2011. The symposium was hosted and supported by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Headshot of Dean van der Leeuw Download Full Image

The four-day meeting culminated in the Stockholm Memorandum: “Tipping the Scales Toward Sustainability.” This document was signed by key Nobel laureates and handed over to the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by the UN Secretary General. Conclusions from the UN Panel will feed into the preparations for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro and into ongoing climate negotiations.

The Stockholm Memorandum noted that humans are now the most significant driver of global change and are transgressing important planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. It called for coherent global action to reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities while also creating long-term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions, and policy frameworks.

Among the top priorities cited by the memorandum were changing people’s mindset into a sustainability-oriented one, reaching a more equitable world, managing the climate-energy challenge, creating an efficiency revolution, ensuring affordable food for all, moving beyond green growth, reducing human pressures, strengthening Earth System Governance, and enacting a new contract between science and society.

ASU's van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability, co-authored one of the symposium’s three key working papers that provided the basis for talks leading to the Stockholm Memorandum. That paper addressed using social and technological innovation to mobilize action toward sustainability. He also participated at the symposium as one of about 30 invited scientists.

Ostrom, a 2009 Nobel Prize winner, co-authored another key working paper, “Reconnecting to the Biosphere,” which analyzes the role of ecosystems and the services they provide as the basis for society. She also participated in a panel discussion on planetary opportunities for global sustainability.

Both van der Leeuw (who is Dean of the School of Sustainability) and Ostrom are Distinguished Sustainability Scientists in the Global Institute of Sustainability and members of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — van der Leeuw as director and professor and Ostrom as research professor and founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity.

The Third Nobel Laureate Symposium continued a series of biannual meetings on global sustainability initiated in 2007. The first meeting was held at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and was hosted by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The second meeting followed in 2009 at St. James Palace under the auspices of the Prince of Wales.

“At this third meeting,” said van der Leeuw, “the Nobel Laureates were able to shift the agenda from being primarily focused on climate mitigation and adaptation to a more encompassing look at how we can transform the physical and social world by linking innovation and incentives to sustainability.”

For this goal, participants took a transdisciplinary and systems approach to the sustainability challenges of the world.

Among the topics discussed at the symposium were how societies can be innovative while boosting (rather than reducing) the planet’s resilience, and how to increase biodiversity, be stewards of ecosystems, and increase the options for human welfare on Earth.

Bioengineers expanding work to solve cardiovascular health challenges

June 28, 2011

Biomedical research at Arizona State University will be boosted with support from the American Heart Association for the work of three bioengineers.

Grants from the association recently were awarded to Brent Vernon, associate professor, and David Frakes and Xiao Wang, assistant professors. Each is a faculty member in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Download Full Image

Vernon, director of the Center for Interventional Biomaterials at ASU, and Frakes are seeking to help develop new treatments for brain aneurysms through research they are conducting in partnership with the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

Wang is developing mathematical modeling to predict behavior of cellular processes and engineered gene networks and their impact on cardiovascular health.

Brain aneurysms can be major factors in the onset and progression of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States.

Aneurysms form in weak spots in junctions where arteries join, causing them to balloon into pouches of tissue that fill with blood. If the pouches leak or rupture, blood spills out into surrounding tissues, which can potentially cause stroke and related serious threats to the body’s vascular system.

Vernon is focusing on improving techniques to deliver therapeutic drugs to aneurysm sites to “seal them off” and prevent those dangerous leaks and ruptures.

Devices now used to treat aneurysms are made of platinum coils that cause blood to clot inside the aneurysm, cutting off further blood flow into the pouch – essentially arresting growth of the aneurysm.

A drawback, Vernon explains, is that the coils tend to compact over time and a stable layer of new protective tissues doesn’t consistently form over the coils. The result can be reoccurrence of blood flow into the aneurysm.

Vernon is developing a technique that will use a type of gel to deliver the medicinal drugs. That would enable the injection of liquid medicinal materials into an aneurysm site. The materials then turn into a solid material that will more thoroughly fill up the aneurysm than platinum coils, and thus better prevent reforming of canals that would let blood resume flowing into the area.

He’s also looking at how to make the injected materials gradually degrade – unlike the coils – so that no foreign material remains in the body perpetually and threatens to eventually cause complications.

At same time, he is working on enabling this method of treatment to also release a protein that will enhance and accelerate the growth of healthy protective tissue over aneurysms.

Post-doctoral bioengineering student Celeste Riley is assisting Vernon in the research.

Frakes also will work on methods to keep fluids from continuing to flow into aneurysms and cause potentially fatal ruptures. He’ll develop experiments and simulations to study the effectiveness of applying various engineering techniques to predicting and controlling fluid dynamics (the behavior of fluids) in such preventative clinical treatments.

He expects the results to offer improved physical and computational models and methods for simulating fluid dynamics in treated brain aneurysms, as well as improved methods for measuring fluid behavior experimentally in treated physical cerebral aneurysm models.

His work will also provide improved computational models for new devices being developed to treat aneurysms.

Frakes will be assisted in the project by bioengineering doctoral students Priya Nair and Hiathem Babiker.

Vernon’s research progress has drawn support from previous American Heart Association grants. Frakes’ work has also attracted support from the Brain Aneurysm Foundation and the ASU Women in Philanthropy Society.

Wang describes his project as “mathematics applied to a biological problem.” His work involves study of the mechanisms of cell differentiation – the process by which cells develop to perform  more specialized functions – and its impact as a factor in cardiovascular disease.

He also is exploring approaches to engineering gene networks and determining how they perform in treatments for cardiovascular ailments.

Mathematical modeling he will apply to studies in both areas will provide precise looks at the fundamental principles guiding cell and gene network behavior. Such models will help provide formulas for predicting the effectiveness of clinical treatment methods under varying conditions.

Wang will be assisted by bioengineering doctoral student Benjamin Albiston.

The grants to Vernon, Frakes and Wang each provide more than $130,000 over two years.

The knowledge gained from their research will be incorporated into undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as student research projects.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering