ASU-Mayo seed grants advance new research in cancer, obesity

November 13, 2014

Each year, the ASU-Mayo Seed Grant Program funds promising new research projects aimed at improving human health. This year, 10 teams have been selected for the 2015 program to advance research in critical areas that include cancer, bioinformatics, neuroscience technology, detection and imaging, health care delivery, and metabolic disease and obesity

The seed grant program, which has funded 64 projects since it was established in 2004, is yet another aspect of the ASU-Mayo Clinic relationship, with its long history of successful collaborations in health care, medical research and education. The partnership includes joint faculty appointments, degree programs and research projects, and the ASU Department of Biomedical Informatics, which is located at the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale campus. doctor examining x-ray Download Full Image

“The program is directed at forming cross-institutional collaborations between researchers whose expertise is complementary. They develop vigorous research projects combining basic biomedical and behavior research with clinical research,” says William Petuskey, associate vice president of science, engineering and technology for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU and an administrator of the seed grant program. “The synergies that have evolved from these initial connections have resulted in much larger research programs that have translated to tangible and valuable benefits to patients.”

Creating funding opportunities

Seed grants launch promising new research projects and bring them to the point where they can attract more substantial funding from external sources. For example, Ariel Anbar, President’s Professor from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Rafael Fonseca from Mayo Clinic received a seed grant in 2012 to study calcium isotopes as indicators of the progress of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. Since then, the team has received $1.2 million in additional funding from organizations including NASA, Flinn Foundation and Arizona Science Foundation.

“The ASU-Mayo Seed Grant Program enabled us to generate pilot data showing that our geochemical technique could provide insight into a disease,” says Anbar. “This allowed us to secure a new round of funding from NASA’s human research program, generate the data for a recent paper in (the journal) Leukemia, and positions us well to pursue funding from the National Institutes of Health."

Due to a significant increase in applicants over last year, the program doubled the number of awards given, from five in 2014 to 10 in 2015. Next year, the program will raise the total potential award to $50,000 for eight winning teams.

"The seed grant program has served as a platform for innovative, medically relevant scientific research for over a decade,” says Dean Wingerchuk, professor of neurology and vice chair for clinical research at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. “It continues to facilitate productive investigative teamwork between Mayo Clinic and ASU, resulting in substantial growth of programs in areas of mutual interest and priority.”

2015 projects

• “Electrocorticographic recordings from human cortex for mapping cortical information processing and decoding dextrous hand movements.” Bradley Greger, associate professor, ASU School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering; Joseph Drazkowski, professor of neurology, Mayo Clinic.

• “Continuous blood lactate monitoring in critically ill patients.” Jeffrey LaBelle, assistant professor, ASU School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering; Ayan Sen, assistant professor of emergency medicine, Mayo Clinic.

• “Robust intensity-modulated proton therapy.” Jianming Liang, associate professor, ASU Department of Biomedical Informatics; Wei Liu, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Mayo Clinic.

• “Single cell analysis of breast cancer tumor heterogeneity.” Karen Anderson, associate professor, ASU Biodesign Institute; Michael Barrett, associate professor of neurology, Mayo Clinic.

• “Magnetic resonance imaging texture analysis for the discrimination of human papilloma virus related oropharyngeal cancer.” Jing Li, associate professor, ASU School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering; Joseph Hoxworth, assistant professor of radiology, Mayo Clinic.

• “New emotion-focused interventions for smoking prevention and cessation.” Michelle Shiota, associate professor, ASU Department of Psychology; Scott Leischow, professor of health services research, Mayo Clinic.

• “A new dimension in modeling irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to elucidate novel diagnostic biomarkers and microbiome signatures.” Cheryl Nickerson, professor, ASU Biodesign Institute; Amy Foxx-Orenstein, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic.

• “Development of an in vivo canine larynx with full neuromuscular control.” Juergen Neubauer, associate research professor, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change; David Lott, assistant professor of otolaryngology, Mayo Clinic.

• “Multivariable models of brain structure that classify post-traumatic headache and differentiate it from migraine.” Visar Berisha, assistant professor, ASU College of Health Solutions; Todd Schwedt, associate professor of neurology, Mayo Clinic.

• “Anticipatory analytics for post-cardiac surgery cognitive impairment.” Daniel Bliss, associate professor, ASU School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Amy Crepeau, assistant professor of neurology, Mayo Clinic.

Learn more about past seed grant recipients. If you are an ASU researcher, sign up to receive notifications about funding.

Written by Kelsey Wharton, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

Kelsey Wharton

Science Writer, Knowledge Enterprise Development

Meteorite's magnetic fields reveal how planets formed

November 13, 2014

The most accurate laboratory measurements yet made of magnetic fields trapped in grains within a primitive meteorite are providing important clues to how the early solar system evolved. The measurements point to shock waves traveling through the cloud of dusty gas around the newborn sun as a major factor in solar system formation.

The results appear in a paper published Nov. 13 in the journal Science. The lead author is graduate student Roger Fu of MIT, working under Benjamin Weiss; Steve Desch of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration is a co-author of the paper. Magnetic fields in the solar nebula Download Full Image

"The measurements made by Fu and Weiss are astounding and unprecedented," says Desch. "Not only have they measured tiny magnetic fields thousands of times weaker than a compass feels, they have mapped the magnetic fields' variation recorded by the meteorite, millimeter by millimeter."

Construction debris

It may seem all but impossible to determine how the solar system formed, given it happened about 4.5 billion years ago. But making the solar system was a messy process, leaving lots of construction debris behind for scientists to study.

Among the most useful pieces of debris are the oldest, most primitive and least altered type of meteorites, called the chondrites (KON-drites). Chondrite meteorites are pieces of asteroids, broken off by collisions, that have remained relatively unmodified since they formed at the birth of the solar system. They are built mostly of small stony grains, called chondrules, barely a millimeter in diameter.

Chondrules themselves formed through quick melting events in the dusty gas cloud – the solar nebula – that surrounded the young sun. Patches of the solar nebula must have been heated above the melting point of rock for hours to days. Dustballs caught in these events made droplets of molten rock, which then cooled and crystallized into chondrules.

Tiny magnets

As chondrules cooled, iron-bearing minerals within them became magnetized like bits on a hard drive by the local magnetic field in the gas. These magnetic fields are preserved in the chondrules even down to the present day.

The chondrule grains whose magnetic fields were mapped in the new study came from a meteorite named Semarkona, after the place in India where it fell in 1940. It weighed 691 grams, or about a pound and a half.

The scientists focused specifically on the embedded magnetic fields captured by "dusty" olivine grains that contain abundant iron-bearing minerals. These had a magnetic field of about 54 microtesla, similar to the magnetic field at Earth’s surface, which ranges from 25 to 65 microtesla.

Coincidentally, many previous measurements of meteorites also implied similar field strengths. But it is now understood that those measurements detected magnetic minerals contaminated by Earth’s magnetic field, or even from hand magnets used by meteorite collectors.

"The new experiments," Desch says, "probe magnetic minerals in chondrules never measured before. They also show that each chondrule is magnetized like a little bar magnet, but with 'north' pointing in random directions."

This shows, he says, they became magnetized before they were built into the meteorite, and not while sitting on Earth’s surface.

Shocks and more shocks

"My modeling for the heating events shows that shock waves passing through the solar nebula is what melted most chondrules," Desch explains. Depending on the strength and size of the shock wave, the background magnetic field could be amplified by up to 30 times.

He says, "Given the measured magnetic field strength of about 54 microtesla, this shows the background field in the nebula was probably in the range of 5 to 50 microtesla."

There are other ideas for how chondrules might have formed, some involving magnetic flares above the solar nebula, or passage through the sun’s magnetic field. But those mechanisms require stronger magnetic fields than what is measured in the Semarkona samples.

This reinforces the idea that shocks melted the chondrules in the solar nebula at about the location of today's asteroid belt, which lies some two to four times farther from the sun than Earth now orbits.

Desch says, "This is the first really accurate and reliable measurement of the magnetic field in the gas from which our planets formed."

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration