ASU researchers work to improve diagnosis, treatment of eye disorders

January 12, 2015

Biomedical engineering researchers at Arizona State University are working with an industry partner to advance development of technology enabling the use of tear fluid samples to diagnose and monitor people’s health.

Advanced Tear Diagnostics, a medical products company based in Birmingham, Alabama, is providing funding and technical support for research led by Jeffrey La Belle to improve and expand the use of tear fluid as a biomarker to detect various ocular (eye) disorders. La Belle students lab research Download Full Image

La Belle is an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

For the past few years, his lab has been refining a device that allows people living with diabetes to monitor their conditions by taking tear samples to measure their blood sugar (glucose) levels, rather than pricking through the skin to draw blood.

The project has led to research collaborations and funding support from Mayo Clinic in Arizona. A patent on the device was recently awarded to La Belle and co-inventor Daniel Bishop, who graduated from ASU in 2009 with a degree in biomedical engineering. Bishop is now co-founder and chief innovation officer of Qualaris Healthcare Solutions, a Pittsburgh-based medical product development company.

For the project with Advanced Tear Diagnostics, La Belle’s lab team will be measuring concentrations of immunoglobulin E and lactoferrin in tear fluid. The measurements would help in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of ocular surface disorders – particularly in detecting and differentiating between bacterial and viral infections, including one of the most common infections, conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye.

Measuring concentrations of immunogloblulin E can confirm the presence of an active ocular allergen, such as ocular conjunctivitis, while measuring lactoferrin can confirm aqueous deficiency (dry eye) and a suppression of the ocular immune system, La Belle said.

The team has been testing prototype biosensor devices for their accuracy in detecting biomarkers for eye infections.

In the next phase, extensive experiments will be conducted to test the reliability of the biochemical data the new technology provides. That project will rely on Mark Spano, biomedical engineering research professor, and Jennifer Blain Christian, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering, to develop an interface and a meter for the sensors that La Belle’s team is making to detect biomarkers in tear fluid.

Over the past several years, La Belle has had about 30 graduate and undergraduate students in various branches of engineering assist in research for the tear fluid glucose meter project.

His team for the ocular diagnostic biomarker detection technology includes seven students, and he expects to give more students opportunities to contribute to the research and tech development as the project progresses.

Advanced Tear Diagnostics is providing $496,000 for the project over a year’s time, and plans to commercialize the final product. But collaborative efforts with ASU researchers may not end at that point. La Belle said the company “is also very interested in developing more kinds of chemical analysis tests that would improve ophthalmic diagnosis, as well as other diagnostic biomarkers that show promise for use in general medicine.”

Written by Jiaqi Wu and Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Visiting author links bees, environment and human communication

January 12, 2015

Mark Winston, a nationally renowned scientist, educator and author, is coming to Arizona State University Jan. 28-29 to host two special events for the public.

On Jan. 28, Winston shares the stage with Provost Robert E. Page, Jr. to talk about bees, books and education in a free-wheeling conversation. This interactive event, which probes the heart of what a research university does, takes place at 4 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge in the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. Honey bee collecting pollen Download Full Image

The second event is a signing and reading from Winston’s newest book, “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive,” at 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. The book, published by Harvard University Press, covers the myriad lessons people and communities can learn from honeybees and wild bees – lessons that are particularly vital today, as threats to bees pose similar challenges to our own communities.

Ranging from a discussion of colony collapse disorder to agricultural management, sustainability, mead and honey, Winston’s work will engage beekeepers, environmentalists, gardeners, farmers, urban planners and others interested in the natural history of honey bees and their relationship with humans.

The event is hosted by ASU and Urban Farm.

This long-time fascination with honey bees links Winston with ASU Provost Page, whose own research in the School of Life Sciences spans behavior, population genetics and evolution of complex social behavior of honey bees.

In addition to being part of the international consortium that published the genome of the honey bee, Page is a highly cited author in plant and animal science, with more than 230 research publications. He also recently penned “The Spirit of the Hive” (Harvard University Press, 2013), which examined the self-organizing regulatory networks of bees.

Winston believes that bees have “something to tell us about communication, about the power of collaboration and the importance of focus and presence in daily life.” At Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, Winston’s studies led him to found the Semester in Dialogue program. The program brings groups of students from various disciplinary backgrounds together for a semester-long project impactful in the Vancouver area.

This work first led Page, George Justice, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Frederick Corey, vice provost for undergraduate education, to invite Winston to ASU in June 2014. He came to present his work and lead faculty workshops on infusing principles of dialogue into a diverse array of ASU educational programs.

In addition to his public events this January, Winston will follow up with the ASU faculty teams established in June on the Downtown, West and Tempe campuses.

“Bees can be the richest of guides to the most personal understandings about who we are and the consequences of the choices we make in inhabiting the environment around us,” writes Winston, whose work has appeared in numerous books and commentary columns for the Vancouver Sun, The New York Times and other publications, in addition to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and National Public Radio.

His research, communication, and dialogue achievements have been recognized by many awards, including the Champion for a Healthy Community Award; British Columbia Gold Medal in Science and Engineering; Manning Award for Innovation; and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for excellence in higher education.

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost