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$18 million grant will boost ASU research into mysteries of fatal diseases

August 31, 2006

The Microscale Life Sciences Center (MLSC) led by Deirdre Meldrum, new dean of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, has been awarded a five-year $18 million grant — one of the highest individual grant amounts in the university’s history — to continue its role as one of the national Centers for Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS).


The grant is from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Microscale Life Sciences Center’s focus is on use of microscale technology innovation to solve mysteries about cell growth and death, answers that will reveal crucial knowledge about cancer, heart disease and strokes — the leading fatal diseases in the United States.

It is developing miniature automated systems designed to rapidly detect and analyze the differences between healthy and diseased body cells to better understand the nature of disease processes.

“Our vision is to examine the genesis of diseases directly at the individual cell level, at increasing levels of complexity that progressively move toward an understanding of disease in living organisms,” Meldrum says.

“Cancer, heart disease and stroke all involve an imbalance in this process of cellular proliferation and cell death. Real-time analysis of individual cells is essential for tracing the link between genomics, cell function and disease,” she explains.

The MLSC was established in 2001 as one of the first members of the CEGS and funded with an initial five-year $15 million grant.

Meldrum is bringing the research program from the University of Washington to ASU when she steps into the dean’s post in January. She will oversee the program as director of the new Center for EcoGenomics at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

The program will continue its collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, Brandeis University in Massachusetts and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The new funding comes from one of three grants totaling $54 million awarded by the NHGRI. In addition to the grant to the Microscale Life Sciences Center, $18 million each will go to the Yale Center for Excellence in Genomic Science at Yale University and to establish the Center for In Toto Genomic Analysis of Vertebrate Development at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

“Deirdre Medrum is both a visionary and a scientific and technological leader,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “The participation of Dean Meldrum’s team in this collaboration of leading research institutions gives ASU the opportunity to make significant contributions to some of the most promising advances in modern medicine. This research is a prime example of her ability to move science and scientists to the cutting edge of discovery.”

“The large range of disciplines represented by the MLSC team typifies the kinds of cross-cutting collaborations found in many of ASU’s most distinctive research programs,” said Jonathan Fink, ASU Vice President of Research and Economic Affairs. “Dean Meldrum’s program will take advantage of the Biodesign Institute’s state-of-the-art facilities, and strengthen the ties among the Fulton School of Engineering, the Biodesign Institute, the School of Life Sciences, and the new School of Computing and Informatics”.

“Dean Meldrum is a world-leader in engineering, science and medicine. This firmly places ASU’s nanoscience program among the nation’s leaders in this emerging discipline,” says Jeffrey Trent, president and scientific director of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix.

New technology will be developed and integrated into the existing MLSC Living Cell Analysis cassette system in pursuit of ambitious biomedical goals.

MLSC researchers are aiming to develop micromodules with a variety of optical and electronic sensors to measure multiple parameters within single cells. The modules enable live-cell measurements of physiological parameters in concert with genomic parameters. They also enable measurement of DNA, RNA and proteins inside cells.

The micromodules will be fully automated, allowing precise placement of single cells and controlled experiments on thousands of cells per module that can last hours to days at a time.

Data obtained from the experiments will be used to map out biochemical pathways in cells and correlate it with information on the behavior of mechanisms that determine the progression of disease.

“The Microscale Life Sciences Center and other institutions in the CEGS program are vital to our efforts to apply innovative genomic tools and technologies to the study of human biology,” said Jeffery Schloss, NHGRI Technology Development Program director. “By fostering collaboration among researchers from many different disciplines, NHGRI wants to encourage innovation and build a powerful new framework for exploring human health and disease.”

About The Author

Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman is a science writer for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Before joining Arizona State University in 2006, Joe worked as a reporter, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines dating back to the dawn of the age of the personal computer. He began his career while earning degrees in journalism and philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-965-8122 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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