ASU receives $5.3M grant to fight infectious diseases

September 14, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was chosen as one of ASU's highlights from 2010. Look here for a look back at some of the year's most prized stories.

Scientists at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have received a two-year, $5.3 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to protect warfighters in the event of exposure to infectious diseases during deployment. Download Full Image

Stephen Albert Johnston and his colleagues at the Biodesign Institute have taken on a daunting test of skill: to develop a potential therapeutic that can protect soldiers against an unknown pathogen – and do it in a week.

Any commercially available therapeutic typically requires about a decade or more to go from the benchtop to the marketplace.

“Half of this period involves all the research and development of the therapeutic, the chemistry to make it, and so on,” said Johnston, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. “The other half is all the clinical trials testing and FDA approval.”

The group’s goal will focus on reducing the front end of this process – the research and development phase – to just 7 days.

The DARPA challenge was extended to the research community as part of its Accelerated Critical Therapeutics program, a long-standing initiative in response to emerging and novel biological threats.

Johnston’s research team has developed new technologies that could accomplish this seemingly impossible feat, drastically reducing the time necessary to produce a general agent against a disease-causing invader. In addition to benefiting the warfighter, his team’s approach, involving the use of synthetic antibodies or synbodies, may ultimately find its way into a broad range of applications of benefit to the general public, including medical diagnostics and vaccine development and validation.

Like their human immune system counterparts, synbodies can chemically sniff out invasive microbes with very high specificity, binding with and neutralizing them. Synbodies against the selected pathogen can then be rapidly produced and stockpiled using high-throughput technologies. This assortment acts as a sort of master tool kit, enabling researchers to rapidly construct a custom-tailored therapeutic against virtually any disease-associated protein.

The group has calculated that around 10,000 randomly constructed synbody components, made from short protein fragments called peptides, would provide sufficient variety to target virtually any biological threat. For the DARPA test however, the pool of synbodies can be dramatically reduced.  

“Our idea is to screen a large library of possible pathogens, identifying a broad class of effective binders," said Chris Diehnel, assistant research professor. “We would then produce stocks of peptides to be kept waiting in the wings, so that when we have a live fire test, the unknown pathogen can be screened to identifying several low binding affinity peptides. These we will rapidly assemble into a synbody, targeting that pathogen specifically.”

The first test of their technology will come after the group’s initial year of DARPA-funded research, at which time, the group will be presented with a pathogen and required to generate an effective therapeutic within 14 days. The second year goal of the project aims to cut the production time in half. The team estimates that an assortment of just 100 random peptide chains will be sufficient to screen a broad range of pathogen threats, with the certainty of finding multiple low-affinity chains, suitable for use in synbodies.

Completion of the current project will open the door to a new approach in the development of therapeutics to conquer one of the major challenges to human health.

Written by Richard Harth
Biodesign Institute Science Writer" target="_blank">

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

Coach Erickson discusses game against Wisconsin

September 14, 2010

Opening Statement:
"Obviously, Wisconsin's program over the last couple of years has been excellent. When you watch them play from last year you notice that they have a lot of starters back. I believe they have 17-18 starters back from a year ago. They are a good, solid football team. They are very disciplined, big, and physical in all aspects of the game. Their running backs are unbelievable and are led by John Clay. They play three backs and they are going to run it any way they can run it. Their quarterback is an excellent player and he has been there. He throws a lot of play-action pass, so if you sneak up too much on the run they can then burn you deep. Defensively they are very physical. Their linebackers and front four are big guys. It's a Big Ten football team, which obviously we haven't seen this year. They are ranked 11th in the country, so we will find a lot about ourselves in this game."

On if Wisconsin compares to any Pac-10 team:
"If you were to compare them to any one, it would be Stanford. They run a lot of power, in as many ways as they can run the power play. The back is huge and he breaks tackles. We haven't faced anyone like him this year and he is big time. If you saw him in the bowl game last year versus the University of Miami, you saw that he was pretty special. They play him and a couple of other guys. James White out of Ft. Lauderdale has a lot of talent and a lot of speed. He gives them a different look. Whoever is in their front is well over 300 lbs, so they are big and great players. They play smash mouth football and they're going to come after you." Download Full Image

On the teams tackling so far:
"We have tackled pretty well. We have tackled in space. When you have a 250 pound guy coming at you, it would be best to have more than one guy there tackling him. You have to have a lot of guys around the football. When he gets going north and south up the field on you, then you have some issues. Hopefully we can be solid in there and stay in our gaps. We have to get people to him and keep him corralled."

On the teams pass rush:
"We haven't passed rushed. I think we only have one or two sacks. Both teams that we played ran a style of offense where they get the ball out pretty quick. They don't hold it and the Northern Arizona quarterback got rid of the football as quick as any one I've seen. We got a lot of hurries and we put a lot of pressure on both quarterbacks and forced them to make some bad throws. We got a little more pressure when we played James Brooks inside on our nickel defense. That is where he got his sack in the game on Saturday. It's hard to get pressure as sure as sacks are concerned. We pressured them with blitzes. I would like to get better with it, but I am happy with where we are."  

On if the trip to Georgia in 2009 will help this year's trip to Wisconsin:
"Yes. I've been to Camp Randall a couple of times with a couple of teams that I have had. This was before Barry Alvarez got there and they weren't very good at the time. Their fans are unbelievable and it's an event. It will be packed and we are looking forward to going there. We are going to have to work on some things in terms of the noise but our players are looking forward to going down there and playing."

On Vontaze Burfict's play:
"He had one Saturday; a mental mistake. Other than that he has been good. He understands it. He played awfully good Saturday and we just have to continue to get him playing better. I don't want to say play harder, but play better."

On establishing the run this week:
"Well, we have to run the ball better. I wouldn't call establishing it, but we do have to run it better. We have to attempt to run it more. We got out of running the football earlier in the game and I mentioned it on Saturday. We only ran it 28-29 times and a lot of things we do offensively is based on how they play us. So, when you see the bubble screen outside it's because we chose to do it. We might have had a run play called. We might have called 50 run plays called that game but only ran 29-30 of them. We have to establish the run a little bit better then we did. We have to be able to run it and we have to play better up front in the run game."

On Aderious Simmons:
"This is the first case I've had concerning Aderious. He is getting better all the time. He hasn't played a whole lot but he played in the second half and did okay. With Aderious, in a month from now he will be a way better football player. He has such a huge upside, but I've never had a player who played just two years and came in. He is very athletic with long arms. Mentally and technique wise is what's hurting him the most right now, but that comes from playing."
On his recruitment:
"It was at El Camino Junior College. We went down there and recruited. Our recruiting coordinator had him in junior college. He was the one that got him down in junior college."

On penalties:
"We're fine. Penalty wise, we had four on offense. Two were on holding penalties and two were on false starts. We had two in the kicking game and one was when we tried to block the punt at the end of the half where we went all out. We had a [holding call] in the kicking game. In the defensive game, we had a roughing the passer on James Brooks. That's a judgment call. We had an unsportsmanlike penalty, which is what you don't want to have. We are going to have some penalties. I don't want 13 of them though. We are going to have penalties because that's the way we play and as long as there not of the unsportsmanlike type then you can live with them. Hopefully we learned form it and now we can just go out and play."

On not receiving benefit of doubt from officials:
"I don't know. I don't worry about that. You just have to play and that happens sometimes with football teams over the years. I haven't seen that yet, but when you got two guys rushing the passer and he just lets go of it and they hit him, what do you do? Tell them to stop? It's hard to do that, but obviously we have to improve. If it creates problems for us in terms of winning then we have to cure the problem. We will do that, but our guys play hard and that's how we play."