Special Section Fall 2021 BIO5

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SPECIAL REPORT 2021

THE REGION’S BUSINESS MAGAZINE

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

BIO5 INSTITUTE

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20 YEARS OF IMPACT

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UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

BIO5 Insti 20 Years

of Impact

Collaborative Research Leads to By Romi Carrell Wittman The BIO5 Institute, the University of Arizona’s crown jewel of discovery, research and innovation in the biosciences, turns 20 years old this year. It’s a landmark achievement, and one that has resulted in major interdisciplinary advances in bioscience, biomedicine and biotechnology. BIO5 began as a simple yet innately complex idea: Serve as a hub for collaborative research that would produce bold and innovative solutions to complex biological challenges like aging, hunger, disease, water and food sustainability, and other public health issues. The idea was not to build something around a single discipline or simply to house people with different disciplines in the same building. The goal was to tackle major challenges affecting humankind by leveraging and bringing together five core disciplines at UArizona: agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and basic science.

Peter Likins, UArizona president from 1997 to 2006, and UArizona benefactor Thomas Keating were instrumental in getting BIO5 off the ground. Likins’ vision was to create a place – a physical environment – as well as a collaborative culture, that would bring together and nurture researchers from different fields, clearing the way for new innovations and breakthroughs that might otherwise not be found. “It became evident … that the opportunity for advancement wasn’t in a (single) core discipline, but in the interface between disciplines,” Likins said. “Interdisciplinary research was in the air. The climate was right to create BIO5, and that’s important because not every university has that.” Keating, a longtime volunteer and donor to UArizona, said Likins and Eugene Sander, then dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and vice provost, approached him

BIO5’s COVID-19 Research:

Production of specimen collection kits

Examples of BIO5-affiliated COVID-19 Research Efforts Leveraging TRIF Support:

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Antibody testing

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3D printing masks for healthcare workers

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titute

Important Solutions about the “project” that would become BIO5. “I well understood the concept of collaborative research,” Keating said of his interest in this project. Likins said Keating’s support was critical. “We needed leadership, and Thomas Keating helped us get across the finish line.” While Keating provided much of the initial funds to get the project off the ground, it was apparent the entity would need a permanent funding source if it was to survive. Likins, in partnership with Arizona State University President Michael Crow and the Arizona Board of Regents, approached the Arizona Legislature about instituting a sales tax to fund biological research at each of Arizona’s three state universities. Initially, the concept was met with a great deal of resistance. Likins and Crow lobbied hard for the funding, making the argument that this research could lead not only

to scientific breakthroughs, but also commercialization and other knowledge-based, Fourth Industrial Revolution – 4IR – global economic opportunities. Ultimately, a 0.6% sales tax increase was approved by Arizona voters in 2000 which resulted in funding for K-12 initiatives as well as higher education. Called the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, or TRIF, each of Arizona’s three universities use their portions to promote university research, development and technology transfer related to the knowledge-based global economy. With all the stars in alignment, BIO5 launched in 2001 and Vicki Chandler served as its first director. “Vicki was the MVP of the operation,” Likins said. “She was in there with a hardhat making sure they built it right. She influenced

Genomic sequencing

Stress reduction strategies

Diagnostic testing

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Novel respiratoryassist device

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Tracking of COVID-19 in Arizona

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Data analysis to inform COVID-19 public policy >>>

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PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA BIO5 INSTITUTE

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BizSCIENCE continued from page 71 the building’s creation to make sure it worked well for everyone. We started with a world-class facility that gave us an edge.” During her seven-year tenure, Chandler not only oversaw development and construction of BIO5’s state-of-the-art facility on the UArizona campus; she also helped build a critical research infrastructure. After she stepped down to focus on other research, physcianresearcher Dr. Fernando Martinez was named the new BIO5 director. “I became director in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis. I knew there would be large budget cuts, but I accepted that because I was highly enthusiastic about the BIO5 idea,” Martinez said. Martinez looks back on his service fondly, especially his work with UArizona’s then VP for Research Leslie Tolbert and the deans of the five founding colleges of BIO5. “Nothing is more important for progress in science than bringing together the best scientists,” he said. “Seeing so many faculty thrive and excel in translating their knowledge into instruments to improve human health and well-being, many of them housed in the Keating building, is by far my fondest memory.” Jennifer Barton took the BIO5 reins in 2015. A professor of biomedical, electrical, computer and biosystems engineering, optical sciences and medical imaging, Barton said BIO5’s mission is more critical than ever. Resilient aging, microbiomes, infectious diseases, technology for health, and precision medicine are just some of the areas BIO5 researchers are addressing.

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– Peter Likins Former President University of Arizona

When asked which element of BIO5 is her favorite, Barton said that’s like a parent trying to choose a favorite child. Rather, she said, the people and culture of BIO5 resonate deeply with her. “The fantastic investigators we get to work with, the trainees that have come out of our labs and have gone on to prestigious positions at labs around the world – BIO5 isn’t a degree-granting organization, but we train thousands of people each year,” she said. While BIO5 may not confer degrees, it plays a large role in educating and training the next generation of scientists. Its KEYS Research Internship is a seven-week summer program for Ari-

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Interdisciplinary research was in the air. The climate was right to create BIO5, and that’s important because not every university has that.

zona high school students who have an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). They work alongside top UArizona faculty on active research projects. Past interns have contributed to research developing better ways to detect and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, asthma and diabetes. Nearly 600 students from across the state have completed KEYS since it began in 2007, with more than 60% coming from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented or underserved in STEM degrees and careers. BIO5’s impact goes well beyond advances in biological research or training of future scientists and researchers. UArizona estimates BIO5 is directly responsible for bringing $1 billion to the Arizona economy, including the launch of 55 new spin-out companies. BIO5 was drastically affected by the COVID-19 shutdown and for a time the building operated with critical personnel only while safety protocols were established regarding number of people allowed in spaces, sanitization, distancing and masking. Faculty and staff established ways to keep work progressing without coming into the labs. Barton said, “Our investigators are wonderfully creative. It was quite challenging, but there were many bright spots.” BIO5 played a large role in the university’s pandemic response. Betsy Cantwell, senior VP for research, innovation and impact at UArizona, said, “BIO5’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic are a shining example of how this institute offers critical leadership, know-how and scientific discovcontinued on page 74 >>>

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BizSCIENCE continued from page 72 ery when and how it is most needed.” BIO5 quickly deployed a round of competitive seed grants for the sole purpose of quick-starting COVID-19 research capacity. Thirteen projects were selected based on their goal to help the people of Arizona, potential return on investment and team-based approach. Funded project areas included the development of novel therapeutics; tracking and prediction of disease spread; prediction of patient needs; exploration of the virus’s survivability in specific environments; understanding immunologic risk factors for severity of COVID-19; and promotion of wellness during social isolation. UArizona President Robert Robbins said it’s BIO5’s very nature that enables it to pivot quickly, as it did during the pandemic. “The BIO5 strategy takes advantage of the rapid change around us, aggregates diverse expertise and knowledge, and prepares students for future success by integrating them into transformational learning experiences.” Barton is excited for the opportunities that lie ahead, among them getting

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Dr. Robert C. Robbins President University of Arizona

the word out to companies and industry that might benefit from the Keating

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The BIO5 strategy takes advantage of the rapid change around us, aggregates diverse expertise and knowledge, and prepares students for future success.

Bioresearch Building’s state-of-the-art environment. “I still run into people in Tucson that don’t realize that we have fantastic facilities and equipment for them to use,” she said. “We have investigators with deep expertise here to help and partner.” Cantwell said BIO5 is a critical element in UArizona’s research and innovation ecosystem and is a vital part of UArizona’s land-grant mission. “By partnering with many UArizona colleges, departments, centers, institutes and innovation allies including Tech Launch Arizona, BIO5 translates research to the marketplace where it can be readily used to help humankind.” Robbins said BIO5 is critical to UArizona’s core mission of continuous improvement in education and innovation, something he said is necessary to develop the next generation of adaptive problem solvers capable of tackling the huge challenges facing the world. “BIO5 has had an incredible impact both locally and beyond,” Robbins said. “I am incredibly proud to be celebrating BIO5’s 20 years of excellence.”

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BizSCIENCE Judith Su

Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich,

Floyd “Ski” Chilton

Interdisciplinary Approach Makes BIO5 an International Model Science Without Boundaries Inspires Biomedical Solutions By Romi Carrell Wittman When the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona was first conceived 20 years ago, it was ahead of its time. The concept of creating a space where scientists, engineers, biologists, ecologists, physicians and other specialists would gather to work collaboratively to address the world’s health and environmental challenges was just emerging but was rarely practiced. Today, BIO5 is an international model of how to meld the disciplines of agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and basic science to create novel solutions for pressing biological challenges. In the past 20 years, researchers at BIO5 have developed dis<<<

that could lead to prevention. One focus area is the development of technologies that can assess conditions quickly to aid in identifying causes of infectious diseases or chronic illnesses. For example, Judith Su and her lab have developed revolutionary sensing technology that can detect biomarkers without invasive testing and provide results quickly. Currently, the lab’s research measures biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, Lyme disease, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. Su also works with teams that measure water, air and other environmental conditions to monitor particulates that can trigger brain, heart and www.BizTucson.com

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ease prevention strategies, new drug therapies, innovative diagnostics and devices, and improved food sustainability, said Lisa Romero, BIO5’s executive director of public affairs, communications and engagement. Examples of bold initiatives are found in every lab in the institute’s home, the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building. Research teams range in size and scope, and often include national consortia partnerships with other major research centers and the private sector, as well as students. Researchers within BIO5 seek to understand how diseases take hold within the body to determine key biomarkers

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lung infections. Su is a BIO5 researcher and associate professor of biomedical engineering and optical sciences. “Right now, these sensors are housed in a large machine in the lab, but the goal is to engineer a hand-held device,” Su said, noting that a start-up company in Italy, Femtorays Technologies, has already licensed the technology. The company is interested in developing a miniature sensor platform. BIO5 also has initiatives in the areas of precision medicine and wellness. Floyd “Ski” Chilton is a BIO5 member and professor of nutritional sciences and director of the Precision Wellness Initiative, a new center under development at BIO5. Chilton’s work looks at the genetic and nongenetic variations that interact with the modern Western diet in select populations, and how these interactions can lead to inflammation and inflammatory disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Examples of study groups include African ancestry populations versus European ancestry and indigenous American populations versus Caucasian populations. “Human variability is complex, and that’s putting it mildly,” Chilton said. “You have to look at genetics and genomics, metabolism, family history, environmental and dietary exposure, for example. Predicting who’s more susceptible to which diseases and be able to accurately understand the gene environment interactions, diet interactions – there’s an immense amount of complexity.” Chilton said his research cannot be

Michael Johnson

done without a multi-disciplinary team of experts who can help develop appropriate applications, and it was BIO5’s ability to bring together these teams that attracted him to Tucson from his home in North Carolina three years ago. This focused individual and population-based research can provide a wide range of opportunities that benefit society, including a long-sought pathogenetic mechanism that underscores the different biologic behavior of inflammatory diseases in different racial and ethnic populations and discovering new biomarkers of disease aggressiveness for early diagnostic and therapeutic intervention. Other studies hope to reveal new therapeutic strategies to affect disease aggressiveness using precision genebased dietary wellness and/or pharmacologic interventions, as well as create therapeutic foods and supplements that optimize immune system and brain development for different populations around the world. “We’re going to take a very different approach to medicine by appreciating the complexity of this research and ensuring the right team is in place to be able to personalize and offer precision healthcare to the public,” Chilton said. Another unique study examining the relationship between immunity, inflammation and aging is led by Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, BIO5 member and head of UArizona’s Immunobiology department and co-director for the Arizona Center on Aging. Outcomes from this project will have far-reaching potential across many dis-

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Deepta Bhattacharya

ciplines. The project is served by an advisory team of researchers that includes immunobiology professors Felicia Goodrum and Michael Johnson, associate professor of basic medical sciences and director of the Women’s Health and Research Center, Melissa HerbstKralovetz, and professor of physiology, Meredith Hay – all of whom are members of BIO5. The study looks at how the immune system breaks down as we age, often leading to inflammation that can trigger other chronic illnesses that affect overall quality of life. “When the body’s immune system is threatened, one of the first responses is inflammation, which can act to protect the body until it heals. As we age, this response can weaken, leading to chronic infection that can make the body more vulnerable to infections, auto-immune or malignant diseases,” Nikolich-Žugich said. These can include Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. “All degenerative diseases have two things in common: aging, which is the only common factor, and inflammation, which is the response to infection and can enhance the risks of more chronic conditions,” he explained. Nikolich-Žugich said the goal is to better understand how the immune system functions when threatened with inflammatory conditions and develop new therapies that can prevent the development of chronic conditions. “Ultimately, we want to generate knowledge and turn that into products continued on page 78 >>>

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PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA BIO5 INSTITUTE

Felicia Goodrum


BizSCIENCE continued from page 77 that can provide positive outcomes for patients.” Members of the advisory team are conducting their own investigations into the impact of inflammation and how it affects cardiovascular disease, women’s health, cancer risks, dementia and COVID-19. Last year, Nikolich-Žugich applied his research to a large-scale project in response to COVID-19. Working with another BIO5 researcher, Deepta Bhattacharya, professor of immunobiology, and a team of specialists within BIO5, they developed one of the country’s most accurate antibody tests, with a false-positive rate of less than 1 in 5,000. “We initially set out to establish a mechanism for large-scale antibody testing with the goal of understanding what fraction of the state might be affected,” Bhattacharya explained. “We were looking at what professions might be at a higher risk, who might be immune, and that gradually shifted to understanding vaccine responses, which is a much better way to get to immunity.

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more vital for us each year. It is critical as a nexus for our life sciences researchers.” “The spectrum of research that happens at BIO5 is really important, from very basic to clinical and translational to human health,” said Goodrum. “All of it impacts the work that we do. So much of the pandemic response has leaned on decades and decades of research, investment and outcomes, particularly in the last 20 years with previous COVID viruses. If it were not for that research, we would not have a vaccine today. And that is our mission at BIO5 – to develop ways to improve people’s lives.” Dr. Michael Abecassis, dean of the College of Medicine – Tucson, agreed. “True and meaningful scientific innovation, in an era when technology advances exponentially over time, requires inter-dependent and transdisciplinary collaborations that can only be conceived and implemented in the right setting,” he said. “BIO5 provides a unique forum in which different disciplines can leverage their expertise to advance medical science in truly impactful ways.” Biz

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“When you put multidisciplinary teams together, you can really do a lot of things that, as an individual laboratory, you would never be able to do.” The Statewide Antibody Testing Initiative received emergency-use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration in April 2020 and final approval last fall. Antibody tests can determine who has been exposed to COVID-19 and can potentially reveal who may have an immune response to the virus. This was just one of many BIO5affiliated projects initiated during the pandemic. Over the last 20 years, seed grants and strategic investments in infrastructure, logistical and technological assets, labs and staff expertise leveraged the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, or TRIF, to support quick-start COVID-19 research efforts. “BIO5 was founded two decades ago to lead in Arizona’s bioeconomic growth and to create solutions to the world’s biggest challenges,” said Shane Burgess, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Our college was cardinal to BIO5’s conception and realization, and BIO5 has become

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Meredith Hay

Roberta Diaz Brinton

BIO5 Research & Innovation From Functional Foods to Regenerative Science By Mary Minor Davis At any given time, there are hundreds of studies underway in the labs of the University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute, with researchers tackling some of the world’s most important health and environmental challenges and resulting in promising discoveries and novel innovations. “The BIO5 network has enabled collaboration across campus that has facilitated high impact interdisciplinary work,” said Carmala Garzione, dean of the UArizona College of Science. “Faculty and students have a supportive network of peers and research infrastructure that makes it easier to pursue valuable research and innovation.” The following are just a few amongst the broad spectrum of current projects by BIO5 investigators: Vascular Dementia Meredith Hay Meredith Hay, a member of BIO5 and a professor of physiology leads a multidisciplinary research group that is studying the role of inflammation in dementia. “Specifically, we’re trying to understand how, as we age, chronic inflammatory diseases affect and contribute to vascular cognitive impairment and dementia,” she said. “When you have chronic inflammation, it results in the activation of cytokines or chemicals that drive circulation in the brain,” Hay explained. “When you have too much activity, this is called <<<

Alzheimer’s Disease Roberta Diaz Brinton In 2019, Roberta Diaz Brinton, a leading researcher in Alzheimer’s disease, received one of the largest grants in UArizona Health Sciences history. Brinton is a BIO5 member, professor of pharmacology, and director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science. Awarded by the National Institute on Aging, the $37.5 million grant supports Brinton’s clinical trial to research the first potential regenerative therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is also a partner. “Both organizations and UArizona were willing to support an incredibly bold idea – that the Alzheimer’s brain can regenerate itself,” Brinton said. Brinton started her work more than

25 years ago as a graduate student at UArizona. Since then, research has consistently shown that allopregnanolone, a naturally produced neurosteroid, has the potential to promote neural stem cell regeneration. The five-year, national multi-site Phase 2 clinical trial to determine the steroid’s effectiveness as a treatment is set to begin later this year. Functional Foods Monica Schmidt Monica Schmidt considers herself the largest grower of soybeans in Arizona. With a focus on plant biotechnology, Schmidt, a BIO5 researcher and associate professor in the School of plant sciences, conducts ongoing research into how soybeans can be engineered to deliver more protein to consumers. According to Schmidt, 85% of the world’s population derives its daily protein from plants, with soybeans the number one U.S. exported crop (surpassing corn). Add to that, the United Nations predicts the world population will increase by 2 billion in the next 30 years. With nutritionists recommending that 15%-25% of the average daily calorie intake be protein, Schmidt said it became clear that higher protein-producing soybeans were worth additional study. “Soybean is on its way to global food domination because it is an excellent, sustainable high-protein food source,” she added. “Because the body doesn’t www.BizTucson.com

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a cytokine storm, which is an increase in these chemicals. This affects the blood vessels, resulting in a decrease of neuronal function, which in turn leads to cognitive impairment.” Hay said vascular dementia affects about 40% of the population. Her work has led to two patents that serve as the foundation for the development of a novel therapy to treat vascular dementia, now in clinical trials. Working with Tech Launch Arizona, Hay started ProNeurogen, a company based on inventions arising out of research in neuroscience and vascular neurophysiology at UArizona.

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Dr. Fernando Martinez

store protein, it is necessary to replace your protein levels every day.” Along with population shifts, dietary changes will continue to add to the demand. More Westerners are turning to vegetarian diets, while Asian nations, including China, are seeing a shift to more meat intake, she said. At the same time, 15% of the world’s population is estimated to be at risk for protein deficiency by 2050. “Based on these eyebrow-raising statistics, we know we’re going to need more soybeans, more food supplements, more everything,” she said. “We are trying to get more protein for the same amount of nutrients and land use.” Schmidt works on modifying soybeans with team members in functional genomics (a field of molecular biology that attempts to describe gene functions and interactions using data) who can help her assess various mutations of proteins. “I always have an end goal to my work, and my end goal is to see the results of my work on plates at the dinner table and in the feed buckets for livestock,” she said. “It’s taken 15-20 years, but I think I’ll see that in my lifetime.” Asthma and Airway Disease Dr. Fernando Martinez Dr. Fernando Martinez, a BIO5 member, professor of pediatrics, and director of the Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center, has spent more than 20 years studying the relationship between microbiomes and their impact on human health and wellness, with a focus on pediatrics. What he’s discovered is that while some bacteria can be harmful and lead to infectious and chronic diseases, there is also helpful bacteria. In the case of pediatric respiratory diseases such as asthma, before the

Dr. Anita Koshy

rise of genomics – the study of all of a person’s genes, the genome, including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person’s environment – it was believed that certain bacteria were predictors of asthma in children who were exposed. His research has found the opposite. Children who

Faculty and students have a supportive network of peers and research infrastructure that makes it easier to pursue valuable research and innovation.

– Carmala Garzione, Dean UArizona College of Science

were regularly exposed to certain environments, including daycare, who were raised in agricultural environments or had older siblings were less likely to experience asthma, even as they grew into adulthood. “So, we came up with the idea that exposure to these kinds of bacteria

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helped to train the defenses of the body to learn how to recognize good from bad bacteria and thus train the immune system not to overreact when exposed to these bacteria,” Martinez explained. Armed with years of data and a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Martinez is now engaged in a 10-year clinical trial that seeks to understand how bacteria can be used to prevent asthma and to stave off asthma attacks in those who have it. Babies 6-18 months are given powdered bacteria for two years and are then followed for five to six years. “If we are successful, we hope to develop a new product that will help in the prevention of asthma,” he added. Immunobiology and the Brain Dr. Anita Koshy BIO5 researcher, Dr. Anita Koshy, is an associate professor of neurology. Her work focuses on the molecular mechanisms that allow a common intracellular parasite, Toxoplasma gondii (toxo), to persist in and potentially change the human brain. “Toxo affects 10-30% of people in the United States,” Koshy said. “The ability to persist like that in the brain is very unusual. If we can use the parasite to understand the brain’s immune response to toxo, we can learn some fundamental things about inflammation in the brain.” Her research will provide new insights into how to manipulate the brain immune response which has been implicated in many neurodegenerative diseases. The long term goal of her lab’s work is to develop treatments or therapies for toxo and other disorders, from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, Koshy said.

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BIO5 Research Impact Lucrative Return on Investment By Mary Minor Davis A mission of BIO5 is to ensure that research conducted at the University of Arizona benefits the health and wellbeing of Arizonans and those around the world. The key to achieve this is in translating scientific discoveries through the commercialization of research and development that takes a therapy or product public. BIO5’s overarching economic impact is also demonstrated in the return on investment from the Technology and Research Initiative Fund or TRIF, a voter approved 0.6% sales tax to ignite biomedical and bioscience research in the state that helped established the institute in 2001. Over the past 20 years, BIO5 has invested approximately $120 million of TRIF funds in research. It’s an investment that has resulted in over $1 billion in new funding and jobs to bolster Arizona’s economy and created start-ups and spin-outs in the biosciences industry. “That’s a remarkable record for an entity like BIO5,” said Betsy Cantwell, senior VP of research, innovation and impact for UArizona. Cantwell oversees the depth and breadth of the university’s entire research enterprise, as well as Tech Parks Arizona, Tech Launch Arizona, economic development, and student entrepreneurial institutes. As the commercialization partner to BIO5, Tech Launch Arizona facilitates the mechanism that moves research from the university to the marketplace and helps connect promising discoveries with industry. It also manages the licensing for research developed at UArizona. According to a study conducted by the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship at the Eller College of Management, 109 startups were launched from UAri-

zona between 2016 and 2018, creating over 5,300 jobs with an economic impact of nearly $585 million. Janet Roveda, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a BIO5 member, has been working for the past five years with a multi-institution team on the development of carein-place technology and devices that will change the way people manage their health care. “Traditional healthcare centers around the hospital,” she said. “Carein-place centers around where people go when they need medical services,

Having the university at the highest levels indicate that they are open to collaboration facilitates partnerships and fuels economic development in Arizona.

Klearchos Papas BIO5 member Co-founder, Procyon Technologies –

how they are treated and how care is delivered.” Working with teams from the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, Baylor University and the University of Missouri, with support from the National Science Foundation, research and development focuses on sensors that can detect biomarkers outside of the body, radio frequency communications to devices, artificial intelligence and the materials used in device development. Roveda and her team have also been working with private-industry partners who have signed on as members of the project, providing funding and other resources. In all, 21 companies have signed on at $50,000 per company, including Best Buy Healthcare, Boston Scientifics and Facebook. The team is now engaged with other companies including Fitbit for additional development funding. The team has developed several prototypes, including small, hand-held devices currently in Phase I trials, but they are looking at everything “from head to toe,” as well as non-wearable devices, Roveda said. These include headbands, necklaces, belts, leggings and socks, as well as in-home cameras. “There are wearable devices today that track heartrate, exercise and other measurements but the information isn’t tracking into the doctor’s office and thus isn’t part of the electronic health record,” Roveda said. Adding the data to the EHR will supplement healthcare management and supports trends in telehealth and other in-place healthcare practices evolving today. An example of this research to discovery to innovation ecosystem, BIO5 continued on page 86 >>>

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BizSCIENCE Betsy Cantwell

Janet Roveda

Klearchos Papas

Reglagene

member Klearchos Papas is the co-founder of start-up Procyon Technologies started in 2019. The company focuses on the development of oxygen enabled encapsulated cell therapy technology with a focus on providing a “functional cure” for people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) without the need for drugs that suppress the immune system. In December, Procyon announced an exclusive research collaboration and license agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S to develop a cell encapsulation device system to be used in Novo’s development of a novel therapy for T1D. Papas is a professor in the Department of Surgery, as well as the director of the Institute for Cellular Transplantation in the College of Medicine – Tucson. “BIO5, and in particular Jennifer Barton, has been instrumental in providing key core resources needed to initiate and conduct the research and in facilitating our competitiveness in winning major grants to fund proof-of-concept experiments and data,” Papas said. “Universities have not typically been outward-facing to industry. Having the university at the highest levels indicate that they are open to collaboration facilitates partnerships and fuels economic development in Arizona.” Papas also said that for the research to go from its current stage to final product with regulatory approval typically would take up to $1 billion, funds that couldn’t be obtained through grants alone. Because of the pro-industry relationship, “Novo has made the commitment to fund and accelerate what needs to be done at this point to get to the proof-ofconcept studies in patients.” “Arizona will benefit economically from the clinical trials and work to be done here, as well as the successful commercialization of this technology,” he added. “The fact that it was developed at UArizona will put the state on the international map as a hub for biomedical innovation.” The cell encapsulation technology has the potential to treat other serious medical conditions including cancer and is a model for other industry partnerships. “It sets the stage further success,” Papas said. Another start-up, Reglagene, was launched in 2018 by Richard Austin, now the CEO, BIO5 member, Laurence Hurley who is the CSO, and BIO5 associate professor, Vijay Gokhale, one of the co-inventors. The company is currently developing low-cost and non-invasive therapeutic treatments for prostate and brain cancer that target cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy cells intact, according to the company’s website. The programs are in the preclinical stage, explained Austin. Reglagene is producing epigenetic medicines and testing these for efficacy and safety in human disease models. Epigenetic medicines are designed to help existing cancer treatments work better and longer. “What we’re excited about is that we are applying precision medicine to target cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone,” Austin said. “Understanding the genetic basis of disease opens up the ability to address other cancers that share genetic commonalities.” Both cancer projects at Reglagene are supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and are being done in partnership with cancer experts at the UArizona Cancer Center and the Translational Genomics Research Institute also known as TGen. “For more than two decades, BIO5 has brought together some of the most talented researchers in Arizona and the U.S. to accelerate innovation and foster entrepreneurship in order to find solutions to our most vexing problems,” said Dr. Guy Reed, dean of the College of Medicine – Phoenix.

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PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA BIO5 INSTITUTE

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From left

Kate Riley

Director of Finance, Operations & Research Administration <<<

Director BIO5

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Lisa Romero

Executive Director of Public Affairs, Communications & Engagement


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BIO5 Empowers Women Leaders Diversity and Inclusion Frame the Culture

PHOTO BY BRENT G. MATHIS

By Romi Carrell Wittman BIO5 is marking its 20th anniversary as a model for scientific research, discoveries and advances. What it’s less likely known for is its strategic advancement of women in the sciences. BIO5’s three-person senior leadership team is all female. Jennifer Kehlet Barton, Lisa Romero and Kate Riley make every strategic decision facing the organization, coalescing different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives to together develop the best outcome possible. Additionally, women are strongly represented among BIO5 member faculty, researchers and staff. This representation is remarkable given that, according to the National Science Foundation, women make up just 28% of the workforce in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. Betsy Cantwell, senior VP for research, innovation and impact at the University of Arizona, said this diversity sets the stage for the next generation of scientists and

leaders. “We model strong women leadership – especially an allwoman leadership team – so the next generation can see themselves clearly as future leaders,” she said. “Additionally, women are strongly represented among BIO5 faculty, lab staff, institute staff and trainees. BIO5 was built on the very concept and culture of diversity and inclusion.” In her experience, Cantwell said, female researchers gravitate toward the more multidisciplinary challenges. “When women get to the peak of their research capacity, they generally tend to look at the challenge and say, ‘Let’s bring people together from different fields to come up with a more holistic solution.’ ” Jennifer Barton Director Barton took the reins of BIO5 in 2017 after serving in a variety of faculty and administrative leadership positions across the university since she arrived at UArizona in 1998. A biomedical

engineer, she has since overseen the growth and reach of BIO5’s interdisciplinary research portfolio in the fields of precision medicine, infectious diseases, technology for health and resilient aging, among many others. Barton believes the people of BIO5 are what make the organization truly special. “BIO5 is a combination of industry and academia,” she said. “We have the most amazing staff and researchers who truly care about the mission to improve the health and well-being of humankind. It’s not just a job. They really love and believe in what they’re doing.” Lisa Romero Executive Director Public Affairs Communications and Engagement Romero has been at BIO5 since 2012, bringing with her not only a strong business background but an ability to cultivate connections and relationships continued on page 90 >>>

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BizSCIENCE continued from page 89 across campus and in the community as a native Tucsonan. A strategic marketing executive with 30 years of experience, Romero serves BIO5 in a number of capacities, including communications, education outreach and community relations. Her team manages the very popular KEYS Research Internship program for Arizona high schoolers, Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books with the UArizona College of Science, the Discover BIO5 Event Series, and the BIO5 Student Industry Networking Event with BIOSA, a local bioindustry association. When asked why BIO5 is important to her and the larger university and scientific communities, Romero doesn’t hesitate to answer. “BIO5 is all about solving problems by working together, knowing that approach is where the real power to create change lies,” she said. “Today, the word ‘interdisciplinary’ is used to describe many institutions, but 20 years ago it was novel. We have the

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Kate Riley Director Finance, Operations & Research Administration Riley has been at UArizona for the past 24 years, making connections and building expertise she regularly draws on to manage BIO5’s business office and facilities. Riley joined BIO5 in 2006 at the behest of then-BIO5 director Vicki Chandler. “Those early years with a dynamic female leader were exciting, and there were so many things we wanted to do, but we didn’t even have a building until 2007,” Riley said. “I have likened those early years to being part of a startup. Many things we wanted to do didn’t

have precedent, so we were figuring out new ways to make things happen and learning as we went.” Reflecting on BIO5’s upcoming anniversary, Riley said things have changed quite a lot since the early days, but the organization’s core principles – as well as its commitment to diversity and inclusion – are the same. “We are much larger, but the guiding light of innovation still informs our daily purpose,” Riley said. “I have seen many changes, but strong, dynamic leadership has been a constant, and the number of women in leadership positions has been extraordinary. We cannot overemphasize the importance of representation in the sciences across disciplines. We hear that from students, as well as junior faculty. “Ours is a team that doesn’t let ego impede progress,” Riley said.

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physical and philosophical infrastructure to get people in the same room to explore and compare ideas, all while bringing the next generation of scientists alongside them to learn in the pursuit.”

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KEYS to the Future

Acclaimed Training Programs Offer Students STEM Opportunities By Mary Minor Davis

Training a workforce of future researchers and scientists is as critical to the BIO5 Institute as the overall mission to create meaningful discoveries related to the many grand biological challenges it’s already tackling. BIO5 offers students work experiences that complement their academic curricula through internships and paid jobs, as well as post-graduate assistantships. “Our goal is to be a partner in helping students starting in high school all the way through their college education to be fully prepared for successful careers,” said Lisa Romero, BIO5’s executive director for public affairs, communications and engagement. BIO5 also hosts annual networking events for both undergraduate and graduate students, inviting researchers and industry leaders to talk with and share advice with students to promote career readiness. “This is not a job fair, although some students do find internships and jobs from these opportunities. Our approach is more about creating meaningful connections and support while increasing the talent-pool and diversity of students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees and careers,” Romero said. “BIO5 plays an important role in accelerating the commercialization of new technologies, diagnostics and treatments, and in developing our next generation of scientists and tech workforce,” said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development engine. “Site selectors and biotech companies looking to expand recognize the value of this important UArizona asset in our region.” Additionally, BIO5 leads the annual KEYS Research Internship, one of the state’s premier summer training

programs for Arizona high school students interested in developing STEM skills. Interns gain experience with real-world application by completing research projects guided by scientists in UArizona labs. Since the KEYS program launched in 2007, 576 students have completed it. “KEYS exposed me to a network of mentors and educators who strongly influenced the direction of my education, career and life,” said Brooke Moreno, a UArizona graduate who now works as a KEYS outreach program coordinator. Moreno participated in KEYS in 2009, the summer before she attended her freshman year. As a first-generation college student from Marana, she said she knew she wanted to study science but was “clueless” about where to start. “First-generation college students struggle to find community and belonging on campus, and this acts as a consistent barrier to higher education,” Moreno said. “KEYS gave me this network before I ever set foot in a college classroom.” Now working for KEYS, Moreno sees a chance to pay her experience forward. “KEYS showed me that there was a place for me at the University of Arizona and that I could be a strong firstgeneration scientist and educator,” she said. “I am forever grateful for the mentorship and learning opportunities provided for me by KEYS and BIO5. I take great pride in providing young scientists the same – and more – opportunities that were offered to me so many years ago.” Sarah Brown Smallhouse, president of the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, said the foundation originally funded scholarships for students to attend the summer program, and now endows KEYS.

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“Over the years, we really began to appreciate the caliber of students that took an interest in and completed the program,” she said. “We were also impressed by the faculty and staff’s commitment level and the teamwork that emerged to support these students.” “We need to begin to get young people involved in STEM well before they get to the university level, and our K-12 school system is not able to give enough students a window into the real world of translational outcomes,” said Betsy Cantwell, UArizona’s senior VP of research, innovation and impact. “We have a number of partnerships with the private sector that not only support KEYS, but also offer our undergraduate and graduate students real-world experience that is so important.” Cantwell added that nearly 65% of KEYS alumni have chosen to attend an Arizona college or university. “We want that outcome as well, but we’re primarily committed to expanding opportunities to be able to experience STEM internships.” Since BIO5’s inception 20 years ago, more than 15,000 students have benefitted from one or more of these careerbuilding opportunities, Romero said. “For the past 20 years, BIO5 has displayed an outstanding record of achievement in advancing interdisciplinary life science research,” said Rick Schnellmann, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “The institute has been a significant partner to the College of Pharmacy by facilitating collaborative opportunities that help close longstanding gaps in research and enriching the minds of future healthcare leaders through programs such as KEYS.”

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Jennifer Barton

Engineering Research Outcomes Through Collaboration By Romi Carrell Wittman BIO5 Director Jennifer Barton is a unique force in the halls of academia. Her background spans both the private and public sectors, from the practical to the theoretical, from electrical engineering to optical sciences to biomedical engineering. Barton brings each of these skills to bear as she leads BIO5’s charge to develop creative, bold solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. This varied expertise – Barton’s approach to her own career – pairs perfectly with BIO5’s interdisciplinary DNA, which has become an international model for translating scientific discoveries and technology advancement into innovative solutions and commercial opportunities. “I started off as an electrical engineer,” she said. “Everyone in my family is an engineer. My parents believed that you should get the kind of degree that would translate into a good job.” Barton worked at former aerospace company McDonnell Douglas, specifically on a space station project. However, over time she discovered that her interest lay in the biomedical field. When she made plans in 1994 to return to school to earn her doctorate, she enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin’s biomedical engineering Ph.D. program. After graduation, she explored her options. “I was an older Ph.D. student,” she said. “I figured I’d go back into industry because I didn’t want to do a postdoc.” A postdoc is a temporary position that allows a Ph.D. student to continue their training as a researcher and gain the skills necessary for an academic career. Instead, she was drawn to the University of Arizona’s biomedical engineering program and took a faculty position <<<

other,” she said. Throughout her career and especially at BIO5, Barton has built a reputation for bringing people together, leading and mentoring them, and melding seemingly disparate research areas into collaborative endeavors. As an example, by connecting plant scientists and cancer biologists they might find that they have been studying the same gene. By sharing information and unique expertise they can advance both their research programs. UArizona President Dr. Robert Robbins said of Barton, “Her success as a biomedical engineer and her commitment to community impact, mentorship and teaching make her an ideal leader for this important institute.” Barton said serving as BIO5 director means acting as a connector not only between academic disciplines, but also with the business and commercial communities. “Research to innovation is a long process,” she said. “We must rely on partnerships and relationships to succeed.” She said the most satisfying part of her role as BIO5 director is to be able to offer the support to keep scientists focused on outcomes. “I help keep ideas and connections moving forward with the collective goal of advancing health.” Asked to sum up her role at BIO5, Barton said: “BIO5 is a combination of academia and industry. We’re better at collaboration and translation than most universities and we’re always getting better.” She added that BIO5 will always be part of her career. “I will definitely be a member of BIO5 for my faculty career. Its mission and structure are critical for my research.”

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in 1998. “The program really blew me away,” she said. “I realized that it would be a very different type of job, and they appreciated my industry experience.” She said UArizona faculty and staff offered much needed support and mentorship in those early days. “I was fortunate that so many people invested time to help me learn this whole new world of academia.” In addition to her work at BIO5, Barton is the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Professor in biomedical engineering, as well as a professor of electrical, computer and biosystems engineering, optical sciences and medical imaging. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and continues her work to engineer tools that will help detect cancer earlier and more efficiently. She and her team have developed miniature endoscopes precisely for this purpose and are exploring the suitability and efficacy of such tools in real-world application. She joined BIO5 as assistant director in 2009, and in 2015 when then-BIO5 director Dr. Fernando Martinez moved to another leadership position as director of UArizona’s Asthma & Airway Disease Research Center, she took over as interim BIO5 director. A national search for a permanent director followed. Barton threw her hat in the ring and successfully secured the top spot in 2017. Barton is committed to BIO5’s mission of furthering interdisciplinary research excellence and serving Arizona and the community. She has a passion for training the next generation STEM workforce. “When it comes to scientific advancement, I’d love to see a future where research and education all across campus is just like it is at BIO5, with disciplines working alongside each

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“I help keep ideas and connections moving forward with the collective goal of advancing health.“

PHOTO BY BRENT G. MATHIS

– Jennifer Barton, Director BIO5 Institute

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Thomas W. Keating Building the Foundation for BIO5

If you happen to stroll across the University of Arizona and venture just north of Speedway Boulevard, you’ll encounter an imposing and elegant red brick building with walls of windows and a large white metal shade sail of sorts. Within walking distance of Banner University Medical Center and part of the health sciences campus, the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building has four floors and 177,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research laboratories, core facilities and collaborative meeting spaces. With the support of cuttingedge equipment and flexible design, scientists are able to tackle virtually any type of challenging research project. Completed in 2006, the Keating Building, as it’s often called, is the home of the BIO5 Institute, an organization with a three-fold mission of excellence in basic and translational research, interdisciplinary collaboration and commercialization, and education outreach and training. BIO5 and the Keating Building are jewels in the UArizona research crown, but neither might have become reality

had it not been for the vision and dedication of the man for whom the building is named: Thomas W. Keating. Keating has long been involved with UArizona – as a student to volunteer to donor back to student again. As a young man, Keating spent six months active duty in the National Guard after high school graduation. After returning from Fort Bliss, Tex., he attended Menlo College in Atherton, Calif. “I was thinking I might be Stanford material,” he said with a chuckle. “I was not.” After his self-described poor performance at Menlo College, Keating thought a different school might be the answer. He enrolled at UArizona. “It was a disaster,” he admitted. “I left in 1962 to go work at my family’s company.” Keating would go on to build a highly successful 38-year career at that company, American Protective Services, started on break-bulk (non-containerized) cargo ships in port. Its non-maritime business eventually grew to 19,000 employees in 35 states and was sold in 2000 to Securitas of Sweden, the

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world’s largest security provider. Knowing Keating was not a man to retire, friend and UArizona grad Matt Noble reached out to Keating to encourage him to get involved with the Kappa Sigma fraternity, Keating jumped at the opportunity. He attended his first homecoming in 1987, and Keating and his wife, Irene – or “Reenie” – haven’t missed one since. Keating soon began volunteering for UArizona in a number of capacities. Since then, Keating’s involvement with UArizona has been seemingly limitless. He chaired the BIO5 Business Advisory Board as well as the Alumni Association board of directors. He has served on the UA Foundation board of trustees for the past 20 years and was the chair, and continues to devote his time and resources to the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences and Honors, as well as the BIO5 Institute, the KEYS Research Internship, athletics, campus life, dance, Alumni Plaza and Women’s Plaza. In 1996, after living part-time in continued on page 98 >>> Fall 2021

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BizSCIENCE continued from page 97 Tucson, Keating and his wife decided to purchase a second home here. They decided to take the plunge after Keating sat down and calculated just how much time they were spending in Tucson versus Alameda, Calif., their primary home. “I made three columns,” he said. “One for nights slept in Alameda, Tucson, or someplace else. I charted the whole year and discovered we’d spent more time in Tucson than anywhere else.” Once here, Keating decided to enroll at UArizona to complete his degree. “My kids have their degrees and I had my 35 units,” he explained. “I wanted to graduate before I was 80.” He did. In 2000, at the age of 58, he walked across the stage to accept his diploma for a Bachelor of Science in agriculture. “It was a great period of time in my life, and I really, really value that,” he said. “College-level kids are a joy to be around. They’re very open and accepting and they made my life a joy coming back to school. That’s one of the primary reasons for us staying. If you volunteer for UArizona, you always want

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anonymously to Dean Sander for a similar purpose, and offered to match that amount with a pledge for the balance.” Following many conversations amongst UArizona leadership and Keating, the Keatings’ original donation was used for construction of the unique building that now bears his name. “It was an extraordinary experience,” Keating said. The Keatings are both still active in the UArizona community, so much so they had to scale back a bit. “We had great basketball tickets for 21 years, but we gave them up because we could never do anything else for the first quarter of each year but basketball,” he laughed. Likins said Keating’s contributions to UArizona and, more specifically BIO5, are immeasurable. “Interdisciplinary research was in the air. The climate was right to create BIO5, and that’s important because not every university has that,” Likins said. “It was deep in the bones of the institution, but we needed leadership and Tom Keating provided that. He helped us get across the finish line.”

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the job where you have face time with the students.” As an older student, Keating was more aware of the things he needed to do to be successful. “I learned very quickly that sitting in the front of class is a mistake because you can’t constantly turn around to see who is answering,” he said. “Sit in the fifth row. That helps you find the smart kids so you can study with them.” During his time as a student the second time around, Keating became close with Eugene Sander, then dean of the College of Agriculture. Keating believed in Sander’s vision so much that he made an anonymous gift to the college for the purpose of building a new research lab with more space. Later, Keating encountered Peter Likins, then UArizona’s president, at an Alumni Association meeting. “In this particular meeting, (Likins) talked about his vision for collaborative research and the need for a new building for that,” Keating said. Likins told the group the sum he was trying to raise. “I later went to him and told him I had good news.” Keating said. “I had already given half his goal

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