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Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute, co-hosted a lively and innovative symposium Nov. 9, greeting the international guests in their native Chinese. After enthusiastic applause, the presentations began.
The symposium, which hosted representatives from Sichuan University and West China Hospital, in addition to researchers from the Biodesign Institute, focused on exploring strategies for the detection and treatment of infectious diseases and cancer.
The gathering represented the most recent of many of international university collaborations spearheaded by ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Symposia like these extend existing relationships, foster new partnerships and provide a valuable exchange of ideas.
“I think Biodesign’s major objective is to translate the bench side of research to clinical applications, and we are not only looking for clinical partners in the U.S. but also for partners outside,” said Tony Hu, associate professor at the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and co-host of the symposium.
The West China Hospital and its accompanying Sichuan University are highly regarded in China, especially in the realm of medical research. In fact, West China Hospital was ranked No. 2 on a list of China’s best hospitals.
“The West China Hospital definitely has great facilities, and it’s a well-known hospital. Its medical research is often No. 1 in China, so it could be perfect for collaboration with Biodesign,” Hu said.
Four speakers spoke on behalf of Biodesign, and four speakers spoke on behalf of the West China Hospital and Sichuan University.
Liu Jie — Immune-regulation in immunity against RSV infection
Liu Jie works in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccines at West China Hospital studying the flu, RSV, MCV and cancer.
In his presentation at the Biodesign Institute, he focused on the challenges posed for vaccinating against the RSV infection. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is common, very contagious and typically infects the respiratory tracts of children before the age of 2. The (FI)-RSV vaccine, which was previously used to immunize children, is no longer in use due to the fact it enhances the disease and its associated symptoms.
Currently, the only treatments available are nucleoside inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies, and there is no licensed vaccine for the infection. Some challenges to creating a new vaccine include the fact that most patients are infected at a young age, making clinical trials less viable; the failure of the human immune system to protect the body against re-infection; and the lack of sufficient animal models to test out a new vaccine.
Ding Bisen — Vascular niche regulates lung regeneration and fibrosis
Ding Bisen, an assistant professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, studies liver and lung regeneration. In his lecture, he addressed how the vascular niche can regulate fibrosis and regeneration in human lungs.
With fibrosis being the cause of death in about 40 percent of all diseases, it is important to understand how and why it takes place in the human body and what mechanisms can be targeted to prevent it. Ding presented findings that could mediate fibrosis while promoting lung regeneration.
He first proposed that vascular regulation could be used to bypass lung fibrosis. He followed this up with some background regarding lung generation, noting that endothelial cells guide organ regeneration while blood vessels instruct hepatic regrowth after injury.
Ding focused much of his research studies on the endothelial Mmp14 gene, which encodes for lung regrowth. He concluded that Mmp14 in lung endothelial cells could promote regeneration while suppressing fibrosis, in what he called a “proregenerative and antifibrotic vascular niche.”
Zhang Wengeng — Precision medicine in West China Hospital
Zhang Wengeng, a representative and member of the editorial board for the Precision Medicine Center at West China Hospital, presented on the different laboratories within the center and elaborated on their research goals.
Launched in 2014 by Weimin Li with building beginning in July 2015, the Precision Medicine Center’s mission is to “accelerate the implementation of precision medicine into clinical care.”
The center has a high throughput sequencing laboratory with a wide variety of platforms for microbial sequencing and clinical genetic testing. The lab has technology that can sequence anything from a whole genome to single-cell RNA, and is currently covering various projects, ranging from topics of genetic cancer susceptibility to the driver genes in lung cancer.
The center houses other labs including the Lung Cancer Molecular Phenotype Lab and the Molecular Imaging and Targeted Tracer Laboratory. The Industrial Technology Institute, which belongs to the center, aims to bridge the gap between hospitals and commercial companies.
Meihua Wan — Nanoplasmonic quantification of circulating pathogen-derived extracellular vesicles
Meihua Wan, a member of the Department of Integrative Medicine at West China Hospital, studies nanoplasmonic sensing and detection and its use in clinical applications.
In her presentation, she discussed exosomes as novel biomarkers for proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. She also addressed the limitations imposed on exosomes in diagnostics, citing that they are unable to directly detect tumors, the experiments are sample intensive, and the protocol is time-consuming.
She delved into the pros and cons of far-field and near-field microscopy, noting that far-field imaging takes less time, is easily operable and that the technology is conducive to high throughput techniques.
She applied these methods to the example of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and explained the importance of early diagnosis, something nanoplasmonic detection could accomplish.
Grant McFadden — Oncolytic virotherapy with myxoma virus
McFadden, the center director and a professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy and the School of Life Sciences, studies novel proteins that inhibit inflammatory pathways and develops poxviruses to treat cancer.
His presentation at Biodesign covered the recent push for next-generation therapies, such as cell therapy, virotherapy and immunotherapy. He specifically touched on his research focus: oncolytic virotherapy, or the use of viruses to treat cancer.
McFadden, in his research, found that the myxoma virus, a virus specific to rabbits and non-rabbit cancer cells, could be used to treat cancer, whether it be through in situ virotherapy or through ex vivo virotherapy, to treat residual cancer. According to his results, all mice that were treated with ex vivo MYXV virotherapy were alive and disease-free.
Stuart Lindsay — Electron tunneling through a molecule
Lindsay, the director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, studies nanoscale biophysics.
For his presentation, in what he called the thing that pulled him out of retirement, Lindsay describes a new method of electron tunneling through molecules, which could be used for various types of sequencing in future applications. For example, this process could be used for electronic single-molecule sequencing of DNA, the sequencing of modified proteins and peptides, the sequencing of oligosaccharides, single-molecule detection of proteins and an electrical reading of enzyme activity.
Lindsay is also affiliated with the School of Life Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences and the Department of Physics.
NJ Tao — Developing new detection technologies: From single molecules to single cells
Tao is the center director and a professor in the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and the School of Molecular Sciences. His research focuses on molecular electronics and nanoelectronics, chemical and biological sensors and wireless devices for mobile health and environmental applications.
In his presentation, he discussed the development of the first mobile metabolism tracker, wearable personal exposure devices, and devices that can optically image physiological parameters without having to be worn.
Lastly, in relation to new drug-discovery tools, Tao unpacked the possibility of targeting membrane proteins and small molecules with drugs, spoke to his project aimed at developing a point-of-care antimicrobial susceptibility test and discussed the potential for label-free imaging of action potentials in neurons, which could be used for diagnostic purposes and would forgo the slow and invasive patch-clamp technique.
Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown — Microbial intervention improves gastrointestinal and autism symptoms by changing the gut bacterial community and fecal metabolites
Krajmalnik-Brown, faculty member at the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and associate faculty at the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, as well as a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, studies molecular microbial ecology to enhance bioremediation and human health.
In her presentation, she covered how the gut microbiota in humans governs the immune system and signaling to the brain. Krajmalnik-Brown presented her findings, indicating that there was lower microbial diversity among autistic children. She also measured the four most differentially abundant gut bacteria, similarly finding that the relative abundance in the three of the four microbes was lower for autistic children.
To evaluate whether microbiota transfer therapy is a viable option to mediate the symptoms of autism in children, Krajmalnik-Brown treated a group of neurotypical children and a group of autistic children. The outcome was a marked reduction in the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with autism and the recruitment of beneficial microbes in the gut environment.