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Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson are exploring whether dietary interventions that extend lifespan increase or decrease immune defense against infection.
A team of researchers in the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy has discovered a molecular pathway that could be key to creating new therapeutics that would slow or even reverse the progression of end-stage liver disease.
What happens when you bring a medical doctor, an immunologist and a marine biologist together to take medicine from the lab to the patients? Great things.
University of Arizona researchers have been awarded a $200,000 two-year seed grant by theFlinn Foundation through its Promoting Translational Research in Precision Medicine grants program to find out how a virus that flies under the radar of the body's immune defense may influence health, disease and even behavior. The goal of the seed grant program is to foster collaborative efforts between physician-scientists and bench researchers in order to translate findings more rapidly to actual patient treatments.
"Precision medicine" – also known as "personalized medicine" – is one of the strategic initiatives of the UA's Never Settle strategic plan, with considerable investments planned for new infrastructure and 50 new faculty hires over the next 10 years. Precision medicine aims at closing the gap that currently exists between scientific advances and clinical practice. The more researchers discover about the molecular mechanisms underlying diseases, the clearer it becomes that one treatment does not fit all. By integrating such knowledge with clinical data on individual patients, precision medicine entails tailoring treatments to individual cases and improving outcomes for the patients.
The unique research team consists of UA associate professor of medicine Ken Knox, who specializes in pulmonary medicine and has a strong track record in clinical and translational research; UA associate professor of immunobiology, BIO5 Institute member and biomedical researcher Felicia Goodrum, who is an expert in viral persistence; and UA associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and BIO5 member Matthew Sullivan, an expert in viral metagenomics.
The team will unravel which viruses make their homes in the lung without causing symptoms. Specifically, they will home in on one such virus, the cytomegalovirus, known as CMV, which belongs to the herpes virus family.
The human body is home to a vast number of bacteria, viruses and fungi that collectively make up the human microbiome. Much of our microbiome does not cause disease, but rather is critically important to maintaining human health. Recent studies in humans document the enormous impact bacteria have on normal health (e.g., obesity), disease states (e.g., diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders), and even behavior. The role of viruses, by contrast, represents uncharted frontiers for study.
Human CMV is one of eight human herpes viruses and infects 60-90 percent of the population worldwide and, like all herpes viruses, persists in the infected host indefinitely by way of a latent infection. CMV’s primary infection of healthy individuals is typically asymptomatic and, therefore, goes completely unnoticed. When CMV is reactivated from latency to an active state of replication, there are life-threatening disease risks in immunocompromised people, including transplant and cancer patients. CMV infection is also the leading cause of infectious disease-related birth defects, affecting 1 percent of live births in the United States.
Persistent viruses represent emerging health threats that contribute to chronic inflammation, cellular stress and cancer risk. In addition, latent viral coexistence is just beginning to emerge in association with age-related pathologies, including atherosclerosis, immune senescence and frailty. Health costs of persistent viral infections, whether chronic or latent, can be significant.
Knox, Goodrum and Sullivan will study CMV as a model of persistent viral infection upon which to base questions related to how to specifically prevent lung infections.
Just as genetic makeup is different among individuals, so are their immunological reactions to invading viruses, which in turn influences how disease states manifest from individual to individual. By using advanced informatics to analyze metagenomic data sets from the study, the team will investigate correlations between the presence of human CMV and what scientists call the background virome: the "zoo" of viral populations present in a given individual.
“Translational research – moving discoveries from the lab to patient care – is a crucial element of precision, or personalized, medicine as well Arizona’s bioscience strategy,” said Jack B. Jewett, president and CEO of the Flinn Foundation, a philanthropic organization committed to improving the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations. “This exciting collaboration among Drs. Knox, Goodrum and Sullivan is an outstanding example of a potentially groundbreaking research project that could ultimately yield great benefits to human health.”
“This study is extremely important and timely, as known and yet-to-be discovered viruses are undoubtedly influencing human health and contributing to disease states," said Janko Nikolich-Zugich, Elizabeth Bowman Professor in Medical Research and head of the UA Department of Immunobiology.
Fernando Martinez, MD, UA Regents’ Professor of Pediatrics and director of both the Arizona Respiratory Center and the BIO5 Institute, agreed, adding, "Defining the viruses present in the human lung will be an important step in expanding our knowledge base of the pulmonary virome. In addition, techniques used to identify viruses hold promise for rapid diagnostics and treatments."
Other members of the study team at the UA include PhD candidates Katie Caviness and Ann Gregory, senior research scientist Bonnie Poulos, Heidi Erickson, and Lance Nesbit. The current study also will examine viral reservoirs in the context of lung transplants and thus is likely to have broad implications for our understanding of pulmonary immunity and rejection.
Truly groundbreaking cancer research is reserved for those who find new ways to look at the disease. Ghassan Mouneimne is doing just that.
Ten UA students are spending their summers not just studying abroad, but working daily in research groups across the world.
Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals, Inc., or CPP, has helped launch a phase-III clinical trial to test the efficacy of a combination drug that has shown promise of preventing colon cancer. CPP was founded in 2008 to apply decades' worth of systematic, basic research led by University of Arizona professor emeritus Eugene Gerner and former UA researcher Frank Meyskens to improve clinical practice.
Medical students at the University of Arizona are using a new study tool this semester that lets them interact with a real human heart at home – courtesy of their iPads.
The UA-developed Heart Anatomy Explorer I application, available for iPad, Windows and Mac, lets students view, rotate and zoom in on a series of images of an actual human heart as they learn about the organ's structures.
Providing views of the heart from all angles, both in and outside the chest cavity, it's an alternative to color-coded textbook drawings or illustrated digital applications students often use in their studies.
"A lot of times, in anatomy books, the colored images are really defined, but when you go back to the lab, it's totally different," said Nancy Phan, first-year medical student.
The ability to view and rotate images of a real heart makes it easier to understand how things fit together, said first-year medical student Katherine Nielsen.
Blue "pins" on many of the photos identify the different parts of the heart, while other images include text explaining what different structures do and how they work.
"This is a treasure," said first-year medical student Elise Vo. "The pictures are the best you could find, and the ability to be able to move them makes a big difference."
While medical students have the opportunity to interact hands-on with human cadavers in anatomy labs, the Heart Anatomy app lets them continue studying a real heart after they've left the hospital.
Most students access the app on iPads, which are issued to all medical students at the beginning of their careers in the UA College of Medicine.
The idea for the Heart Anatomy app was born from a chance run-in on an elevator between Maria Helen Czuzak, associate specialist and anatomical instructor in the department of cellular and molecular medicine, and Mark Nelson, professor of pathology.
The two, who had not previously met, got to talking and soon realized they were facing similar teaching challenges.
Czuzak was trying to come up with a way to create a digital catalog of human organs to give students in her anatomy classes a more comprehensive view of organs than they get from medical atlases of two-dimensional photos.
"When you just snap a photograph of a heart, you lose the depth and things are flat, and you can't see how things once upon a time related to each other," Czuzak said. "With the rotational, three-dimensional heart, you can rotate it, and you don't lose that depth and dimension."
At the same time, Nelson was exploring how he might use technology to give his pathology graduate students greater experience with real human organs, after funding cuts eliminated the pathology department's wet lab, where students once interacted directly with human specimens.
Czuzak and Nelson decided to team up to create something that could serve them both.
"The ultimate goal is to be able to bring in current technology that students are adept at using and able to help them facilitate their learning," Nelson said.
They worked with the University's Office of Instruction and Assessment to develop the heart app, which, fittingly, became available for download on Valentine's Day for first-year medical students to beta test. Once the students provide feedback to Czuzak and Nelson, the app will be further improved and made available for pathology graduate students and for general release.
Charlie Hill, principal applications systems analyst/developer in the Office of Instruction and Assessment, led the technical development of the app, while Gary Mackender, senior information technology support analyst, helped photograph the cadaver heart.
While the app only covers the heart at this time, the hope to include more organs in the future and to add functionality such as interactive quizzes for students to use in their studies, Czuzak said.
"These students are not only going to be tested on cadaver material in my class, they're going to be practicing medicine on real people," Czuzak said. "This is the advantage of using real specimens in the app – this is what they’re going to see when they open up a chest."
A $1.7 million committment by Tucson Foundations is making the endowed chair possible. Rhee was this year's Undergraduate Commencement speaker.