ASU alum’s short film selected for Oaxaca FilmFest in Mexico

August 22, 2019

The Oaxaca FilmFest international film festival in Mexico has featured the work of Guillermo Del Toro, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And now Martín González, who graduated with a degree in film and media production from Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre in 2018, can add his name to that list. 

González recently announced that his short film “The (Dis)united States” is an official selection for the Oaxaca FilmFest, which has been praised by MovieMaker magazine as one of the top festivals in the world.  Martín González on the set of his film Martín González on the set of his film. Photo by Haylee Finn Download Full Image

González said his film is based on true events that occurred in 2009 and in 2013 in Arizona, when two different car washes were raided by the sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“In that situation, many workers were detained due to their immigration status,” he said. “This in result tore many families apart, which led to children coming home to no parent or guardian in sight. The log line for my film is: 'When a young man's family is on the verge of being torn apart, he makes one last plea for their freedom.'”

González, a first-generation American whose family migrated to the U.S. about 25 years ago in search of a better life, said the film means a lot to him. 

“I made this film because it is a subject that is not only personal to me, but to the people around me as well,” he said. “I am also close with plenty of people who are also immigrants. This film is my way of raising awareness for those who have been silenced due to the political climate and political challenges we are still facing to this day.”

He hopes the film creates an important conversation on the current immigration issues.

“I ask for those who don’t agree as well as for those who agree with different policies to give me 11 minutes of their time and watch the film,” he said. “Every solution starts with a conversation.”

González said he made the film while he was a student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre because he wanted to make a difference with his work — something he encourages other filmmakers at ASU to do. 

“Create the stories that you know will make a difference, whether big or small,” he said. “Filmmaking is a way to express your feelings to the world. Never hold back and always remember you can only get better at your craft if you keep creating. Intimidation is a feeling you should use as an advantage to prove to yourself you can do it and you will.”

González’s time at ASU helped him push through his own intimidation and determine his course as a director. 

“Being a student at Herberger Institute helped me craft my art and also helped me realize what kind of artist I wanted to be,” he said. “It gave me the chance to test the waters in almost every aspect of film, and throughout my four years there, I fell in love with direction and the ability to make films that challenge not only the artist, but the viewer.”

He started drafting the idea for the film “The (Dis)united States” in his junior year, and finished production in his senior year for his capstone project. The piece was selected to screen in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s 2018 Fall Film Showcase, where it received the F. Miguel Valenti Award for Ethical Filmmaking. Named for the first assistant director of film at the school, who created the framework of the film program’s focus on ethical filmmaking practices, the award is presented to a project that substantially and significantly represents issues and themes related to ethical inquiries, and/or complex and difficult subject matter, in an ethically responsible and compelling manner. 

“The award meant a lot to me,” González said. “It gave me the push I needed to get my film out there and have my voice heard.” 

Since then, González and his team have been submitting the film to festivals. It was exactly one year after González wrapped work on “The (Dis)united States” that he received the news it had been accepted to Oaxaca FilmFest.

“I felt very happy within that moment but also sad,” González said. “I was glad that I had finally been accepted to be a part of a prestigious festival, but sad that I knew certain family members as well as friends would not be able to support me by my side in Mexico due to their immigration statuses. Although it was a day filled with mixed emotions, it also gave me the strength I needed to keep pushing this story forward and try to make some kind of change, big or small.”

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Researchers offer new strategies for the use of extracellular vesicles as biomarkers

With advances in technology and our understanding of the human body come better techniques for diagnosing disease

August 22, 2019

With advances in technology and our understanding of the human body come better techniques for diagnosing disease. One recent innovation involves the use of extracellular vesicles as biomarkers for a range of illnesses. Extracellular vesicles are tiny bubbles of material emitted from most living cells that can offer vital clues about the status of the cells producing them.

However, the field of extracellular vesicle (EV) research is a relatively new one, and there are more refinements to be made to translate EV-based diagnostic tools into a clinical setting.  Vesicles Extracellular vesicles are lipid-bound particles containing nucleic acids or proteins that are naturally secreted from cells. Serving a variety of functions ranging from activation of the immune system to disposing of intracellular waste, these vesicles circulate the body continuously, and their contents shed light on potential diseases, including various types of cancer. Graphic by Jason Drees Download Full Image

Arizona State University Biodesign researchers Tony Hu, Jia Fan and Bo Ning wrote a review paper, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry, outlining challenges in developing EV diagnostic tools and potential strategies to ameliorate these, all in the context of diagnosing cancer.

Fan and Hu are professors in the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and Ning is a professor in the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics.

Much of this review paper explores the transition of this research from a theoretical framework to viable technologies ready for use and compatible with human samples.

“Previous reviews focus on EV cancer biomarker identification or isolation but lack translational value,” Hu said. “We aim to address the application of EVs as cancer biomarkers and recent progress in EV isolation and analysis methods, and we also discuss the challenges and recommendations for translating potential EV biomarkers for clinical disease diagnostics.”

Extracellular vesicles are lipid-bound particles containing nucleic acids or proteins that are naturally secreted from cells. Serving a variety of functions ranging from activation of the immune system to disposing of intracellular waste, these vesicles circulate the body continuously, and their contents shed light on potential diseases, including various types of cancer.

“Extracellular vesicles contain DNA, RNA and protein cargoes that reflect the status of their parent cells at the time of their formation, making them ideal for biomarker study,” Hu said.

These vesicles are of particular interest in diagnostics because they are found in high concentration and remain stable in easy-to-acquire human samples. 

“EVs produced by diseased and healthy cells are secreted into most body fluids, including blood,” Hu said. “The unique composition, long in vivo half-life and physical durability of EVs make them qualified materials to serve as stable and sensitive biomarkers for cancer.”

Although EV research is rapidly evolving, the sheer volume of vesicles circulating the human body makes it challenging to detect disease-associated EVs. This warrants the use of technology that can sort, with high specificity, which vesicles’ contents are characteristic of diseases and which originate from healthy cells.

“Due to the volume and size of EVs, only a limited number of biomarkers are packaged in or on these vesicles,” Hu said. “Thus, a lower limit of detection will significantly improve the application of EV biomarkers.”

Determining how to characterize which proteins or DNA in the vesicles originate from a diseased cell also poses prominent challenges.

“Reliable cancer-derived EV biomarkers are critical for all these approaches. Which marker is specific for cancer but not normal tissue?” Hu said.

But what makes these vesicles a more promising approach for diagnostics than traditional practices, particularly in the context of cancer?

“One of the advantages of EV biomarker analysis is a noninvasive approach, so cancer types which are difficult for traditional biopsy to detect will benefit from this detection, such as pancreatic cancer,” Hu added.

The review paper puts these points into context by listing different biomarkers identified by various studies and the assays used in them. Assays are tools designed to measure the presence and quantity of a specified substance, which in this case would be EVs. The paper deconstructs these studies, listing their pitfalls, what makes them effective and how they can be improved.

Although this paper uses data accumulated from past studies, Hu’s lab also works extensively on developing EV biomarkers and characterization tools.

Their group developed an assay, the nanoplasmon enhanced scattering (nPES) assay, that quantifies the total number of EVs as well as number of EVs that originated from diseased cells. The lab utilized this assay to study EVs in the plasma samples of patients with chronic pancreatitis.

With this technology, they had great success in diagnosing pancreatic cancer, which is a testament to their state-of-the-art EV biomarker technology as well as the efficacy of such technology to provide diagnoses with higher specificity.

“We found that nPES signals distinguished healthy patients from patients with chronic pancreatitis, and the results corresponded with tumor burden, stage and early response to therapy.”

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute