To help usher in a new era of molecular diagnostics and personalized medicine, ASU's Biodesign Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have teamed up to establish the Center for Systems and Computational Biology. One of the first of its kind in the nation, the new center will accelerate the pace of biomedical research, directly impact patient care and provide new funding opportunities for both TGen and ASU.
George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute, and Jeffrey Trent, president and scientific director of TGen, will oversee the center. Systems biology is an emerging science that requires highly-integrated efforts between biologists, physicians, chemists, engineers and computer scientists. It combines "wet lab" research with "dry lab" computational technologies to help identify the molecular pathways relevant to disease. The resulting benefits to medicine may include better clinical trials, personalized therapies and improved diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.

"Much of our focus at Biodesign is in trying to understand biological function and the significance of disease at the most fundamental level: its molecular circuitry," said Poste. "This knowledge has enormous implications for every aspect of medicine, as well as other fields of science." "At TGen, our focus is entirely on developing earlier diagnostics and smarter treatments," said Trent. "This new collaboration leverages the fast-growing field of computational biology to speed research and directly impact patients. Additionally, this partnership opens the door to new research and funding avenues for both TGen and ASU."

Accelerating Research
The Center for Systems and Computational Biology will use the extraordinary power of the ASU-TGen supercomputer to accelerate research by quickly analyzing the billions of data points generated by genetic research. For example, a researcher at a major U.S. university estimated it would take him 3.4 years to analyze his clinical trial data. By using the ASU-TGen supercomputer, the analysis was completed in less than three days.

"This leading edge Biodesign-TGen partnership will facilitate the acceleration of research in order to develop smarter treatments and targeted therapies tailored to an individual," said Trent.

Patient Impact
The new center will directly impact patients by providing the technology needed to effectively interpret data and understand the underlying genetic cause of disease. For example, in 2004, researchers at TGen uncovered the genetic basis for one form of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This discovery was made by mining genetic information from nine families living in a small Old Order Amish community in central Pennsylvania. The underlying genetic cause was found to be abnormalities in a specific gene. Mapping and identification of the gene was performed in less than two months from start to finish.

Poste explains that, despite knowing that diseases and patients are not uniform, medical science is currently unable to tailor therapies to an individual, leading to treatments that are ineffective in some people or cause serious adverse reactions in others. Annually, over two million people are hospitalized and between 80,000 and 120,000 die from adverse drug reactions. "This is the most important reason the one-size-fits-all approach to drug treatment cannot continue," said Poste. "We urgently need the right drug for the right subtype of disease - and the right drug for the right patient. Fulfilling the promise of personalized medicine is dependent upon unraveling this complexity."

New Funding Opportunities
The center will open a channel for additional research, funding and economic opportunities for collaboration with industry and other institutions to commercialize platform technologies, license intellectual property, and create spin-off companies.

"We are rapidly moving toward a day when the complete digitization of all biological and medical data will be possible," said Poste. "In the coming decade, we will be able to capture millions of measurements from just a single drop of blood." Plans for the new center include recruitment of a world-class scientist to direct the center and additional leading researchers. Two highly talented biocomputing scientists, Michael Bittner at TGen and Sudhir Kumar at Biodesign, will also participate to launch innovative new programs.

The expert team will rely on scientists at ASU and TGen, shared faculty appointments between institutions, and the supercomputing facilities at ASU. The center will also interact closely with ASU's new School of Computing and Informatics directed by Sethuraman Panchanathan and the future Arizona Biomedical Collaborative (ABC) building currently under construction downtown.

This new effort adds to the list of partnerships among the institutions. In their brief history, Biodesign and TGen have demonstrated a strong degree of collaboration and support.

The Biodesign Institute launched a joint spin-out company, NanoBiomics, in 2004 to develop and commercialize genomic-based diagnostics utilizing nanoscale-processing technologies. Recognized as the start-up company of the year in spring 2005 by the Arizona BioIndustry Association, the company was then acquired by a local start-up, Molecular Profiling, Inc., which was based in part on research done at TGen. Molecular Profiling applies molecular diagnostics to designing personalized care for cancer patients and has forged major alliances with AmeriPath Inc. and U.S. Oncology.

"We are at the very early stages of using systems biology as an important approach to drug discovery and development," said Poste. "Our ability to make useful measurements has far outpaced our ability to utilize them. Biological systems are of such complexity, and the ability to assemble the relevant clinical, biological and biochemical knowledge is a serious barrier to the effective use of this data."


The Biodesign Institute at ASU integrates diverse fields of science to cure and prevent disease, overcome the limitations of injury, renew the environment and improve national security. By fusing research in biology, engineering, medicine, physics, information technology and cognitive science, the institute accelerates discoveries into uses that can be adopted rapidly by the private sector. For information, visit or call (480) 727-8322.

The mission of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is to make and translate genomic discoveries into advances in human health. Translational genomics research is a relatively new field employing innovative advances arising from the Human Genome Project and applying them to the development of diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases. TGen is focused on personalized medicine and plans to accomplish its goals through robust and disease-focused research.

Biodesign Institute
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