With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies spread throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments from the region:
Imaging Cancer. The National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $2.2 million grant to advance the work of Maria Altbach, a professor and vice chair of research in the University of Arizona’s Department of Medical Imaging. The grant will help Altbach and her team research novel imaging techniques to detect small liver tumors to provide better outcomes for patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The grant, awarded as part of the National Institutes of Health’s Academic Industrial Partnership program, enables the researchers at UA and Siemens to work together to enhance magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for tumor detection. While MRIs are already regarded as the most effective imaging technique to find liver neoplasms—the tissue growth commonly found in the liver when colorectal cancer is present—this research hopes to allow MRIs to detect cancerous tissue earlier. Altbach’s team develops new MRI “acquisition and reconstruction strategies to better quantify disease within time constraints of a clinical MRI examination.” Working with clinicians and industry partners, the UA researchers aim to improve the speed and accuracy in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. This research is being conducted at UA’s Translational Bioimaging Resource, and in the Department of Medical Imaging at Banner–University Medical Center here in Tucson.
Virtual Fair. The Tucson-based Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation recently announced that its largest annual event, the SARSEF Science and Engineering Fair, will take place online from March 1 through 6, 2021. The fair showcases science projects from thousands of Arizona students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through high school. While last year’s fair filled the Tucson Convention Center, SARSEF says the likelihood of holding an in-person event that large by March 2021 is low, but by making the call to go virtual now, they are ensuring that they have time to generate the plan and resources needed. While there are still details to be determined, SARSEF has announced that the 2021 fair will feature a virtual project floor for the public to explore, and student interviews will also be conducted virtually. Student finalists will compete for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes, including scholarships and trips. Beyond the fair, SARSEF is providing free virtual opportunities for students, teachers and parents to explore science and engineering throughout the coming school year.
Alzheimer’s Treatment. UA pharmacology and toxicology professor Chris Hulme has received $3.8 million from the National Institute on Aging to continue research to develop medications to help prevent or reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Hulme and his team of researchers at UA Health Sciences are developing a treatment to inhibit the activity of certain enzymes in Alzheimer’s patients. The enzyme DYRK1A plays a critical role in the development of neurological pathways in the brain and central nervous system. DYRK1A has become an “attractive drug target” for researchers due to increasing evidence that it may cause alterations to the brain of Alzheimer’s patients if overactive. Hulme’s preliminary tests have shown that blocking DYRK1A causes “significant reductions in the decline of cognitive function and the development” of Alzheimer’s. With this funding, the UA team will seek to develop an orally delivered drug that could both prevent and reverse the disease in advanced-stage Alzheimer’s patients. DYRK1A is located within the 21st chromosome, the region also associated with Down syndrome. According to UA, studies of Down syndrome in several animal models already have demonstrated the promise that DYRK1A-inhibition improves cognition.