Nine universities, research organizations and companies in Arizona have pooled their proteomics know-how to form an alliance aimed at applying proteomics technologies to clinical research.
Details about the specific agenda and operations of the Arizona Proteomics Alliance, launched earlier this month, are still fuzzy, but according to its scientific director, the overarching goal will be to use proteomics in the search for therapies. By pooling together their resources, say alliance members, access to technologies, tissue samples and expertise would be improved.
“The goal really is to get closer to personalized medicine by applying proteomics technology in the hopes of new discovery in terms of systems biology approaches, as well as taking these approaches to tailor into individual clinical problems and human diseases,” said Serrine Lau, the alliance’s scientific director and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy.
“Some of us will be offering state-of-the-art technology, others will be offering biomedical problems,” she said. “Many of us have reached a point [where] perhaps we have many initiatives to solve problems, [and] we know that the next step will require proteomics approaches.”
The members of the alliance are: Arizona State University; Banner Health; Barrow Neurological Institute; Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Intrinsic Bioprobes; the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale/Phoenix; Sun Health Research Institute; the Translational Genomics Research Institute; and the University of Arizona.
While the alliance officially launched a few weeks ago, it has been a year and a half in the making, springing from a workshop ASU hosted in November 2005 for leaders in proteomics throughout the state to discuss what was needed to advance the field.
Mark Hayes, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at ASU and a member of the alliance’s scientific advisory board, said that even then, the consensus among proteomics scientists in Arizona was that proteomics research in the state needed to be ramped up — or else.
As protein research is being embraced as the next hot field for medical research, proteomics researchers in Arizona have been stifled by the lack of available resources, he said.
“Most researchers would understand that [proteomics] is going to be a key to any functional, clinical outcome. That if you’re going to be developing tests or any new strategies, it’s going to be through the protein, for the most part,” he said.
The alliance is also part of a larger effort within the state to promote biotech research in Arizona, and to increase the profile of the work being conducted there, said Randall Nelson, co-CEO of Intrinsic Bioprobes.
“There’s a growing movement toward genomics, proteomics, systems biology, a whole truckload going on here in Arizona,” Nelson said. “This would be a focused network, obviously centered around proteomics, but it does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger biotech arena.”
After the 2005 workshop, letters of intent were sent to organizations and companies working in the proteomics field to gauge their interest in creating an alliance in which members would work collaboratively on research projects, address problems in research and technologies, and ─ hopefully ─ get more funding from state and federal government for proteomics research.
“It was very overwhelming with the number of letters of intent that came through, and that’s when we began to see the level of possible collaborations,” Lau said
One early result of the alliance is a collaboration between Bio5, a bioresearch institute based at UA, and the BioDesign Institute at ASU to identify proteomic biomarkers and metabolomic biomarkers for type 2 diabetes.
The researchers have already identified several candidate markers and are currently performing validation studies, Lau said. Other projects that have been targeted by the alliance include the identification of biomarkers for neurodegenerative disease and cancer.
Members of the alliance are also interested in studying post-translational modifications and examining the signaling pathways of proteins in disease states, as well as more basic proteomics research such as protein identification.
“The goal really is to get closer to personalized medicine by applying proteomics technology in the hopes of new discovery in terms of systems biology approaches, as well as taking these approaches to tailor into individual clinical problems and human diseases.”
The alliance is expected to facilitate proteomics research and raise the profile of such work in Arizona. By pooling the resources of its members, it creates a critical mass of technologies, expertise, and other resources for proteomics researchers to tap into, the alliance’s organizers said.
“We don’t have the hardwired institutional connections that a lot of universities our size or direction have, so we’ve [had] to scramble to get by,” said ASU’s Hayes, adding that in the past just getting access to tissue samples was a hurdle.
Intrinsic Bioprobes is pursuing population proteomics, which seeks to investigate proteins across an entire population of human beings to better understand the depth of structural modifications in individual proteins across the general population.
“To really do these sorts of studies, you need to be integrated into a clinical [setting], so there’s a networking capability,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to have the technology; you have to have the research house. I need clinical experts,” all of which is now available through the alliance.
Hand in hand with fostering a more conducive research environment, the alliance has its sights on raising the level of government funding for alliance members.
“To pay for [the research] you have to get grants and be strategic and be tactical,” Hayes said. “We are focused on the research and enabling translational work, but we are all reasonably savvy enough to know that that means getting in there and fighting the fight to get funding.”
Eventually the alliance could become an incubator for start-up proteomics companies. “Out of the new findings that come out of the alliance, you create the intellectual property foundation for new companies, whether [they] be just pure technologies or applications of technologies,” said Nelson.
But for now the main focus is using proteomics to get new technologies to the bedside and improve health care.
“From an individual researcher’s perspective … it’s a long hard road to get [proteomics] into the clinic. And one of the positive outcomes of this alliance is to shorten that process significantly,” Hayes said. “Through this alliance I hope to impact the clinical setting more quickly.”