ASU, Santa Fe Institute launch Center for Biosocial Complex Systems

January 12, 2015

Arizona State University and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) will officially launch a research and educational collaboration to advance understanding of problems that stretch across complex biological and social systems.

The new ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems will help scientists and policymakers alike gain a better theoretical understanding of the interconnections between these systems, and apply that knowledge to questions such as what happens to institutions, health care and human behavior as cities grow into mega-cities. Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute partner Download Full Image

“The synergy of two intellectual powerhouses, such as SFI and ASU, can accelerate how our community and nation tackle questions such as disease patterns and health care delivery,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We can generate tools to better understand how decision-making systems work when scaled up, to the level of the urban megalopolis.”

The research and educational collaboration pairs researchers from ASU, a leader in sustainability research, and the Santa Fe Institute, a pioneer in the scientific study of complex adaptive systems, in seeking new insights.

“This new ASU-SFI collaborative venture has immense potential for the advancement of complexity science at both institutions,” Santa Fe Institute President Jerry Sabloff said. “It promises to be a highly successful experiment.”

The new center is the Santa Fe Institute’s first formal collaboration with a university since the institute was founded in 1984. Sabloff said he hopes it leads to additional partnerships.

Crow and Sabloff will formally establish the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems during a signing ceremony Jan. 16 in Tempe.

The new complex systems center could offer ideas and solutions locally and globally. Two active areas of interest to the ASU-SFI partnership are the dynamics of innovation, and urbanization and scaling in cities, such as Phoenix. As cities grow, they face new dilemmas and challenges, especially as they strive to be more sustainable.

In Germany, for example, the populace was recently encouraged to reduce water use as a sustainability strategy. It was highly successful. The strategy, however, didn’t take into account an unintended outcome of millions of people shifting their behaviors. A direct result of less water usage was that the local water tables increased in cities like Berlin, and basements and construction sites flooded. A goal for the new ASU center is to play a leading role in finding solutions to these types of new challenges of the modern world.

ASU will provide support for faculty and postdoc hiring to support joint research and education activities at both institutions. Sponsored activities include workshops, working groups, graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, faculty appointments, faculty exchange visits, seminar series and other joint projects and proposals between ASU and SFI.

Interdisciplinary scholarship and education are fundamental to ASU’s mission and goals, as is developing solutions to real-life societal challenges. This is the latest in more than 200 new transdisciplinary schools and initiatives developed at ASU since President Crow joined ASU in 2002.

ASU President’s Professor Manfred Laubichler and Foundation Professor Sander van der Leeuw will serve as directors of the center, reporting to ASU Provost Robert E. Page, Jr. All three hold appointments as external professors at the Santa Fe Institute. The two directors, plus SFI Vice President for Science Jennifer Dunne and SFI President Sabloff, will serve as the center’s steering committee.

At ASU, Laubichler, a professor in the School of Life Sciences, also serves as director of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity. In addition, Laubichler and van der Leeuw, who is with ASU's School of Sustainability and School of Human Evolution and Social Change, hold leadership positions in ASU’s Complex Adaptive System Initiative.

For a full list of events and to RSVP for the Jan. 16 launch, visit

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


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