New awards stimulate cutting-edge biomedical and environmental research at Notre Dame

Author: Arnie Phifer


For a third consecutive year, the University of Notre Dame’s Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics (AD&T) initiative announced grant awards for a range of research projects that have the potential to solve significant problems in human and environmental health. The awards foster interdisciplinary research and promote new commercialization activity. Technologies developed through previous grants have been licensed by start-up companies, such as Contect and Enlightened Diagnostics, and spurred collaboration with external partners, including the Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend, Saint Mary’s College, and Central Michigan University. This year’s projects show similar promise, and for the first time one was selected for joint funding by both AD&T and Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute (HCRI).

College of Science awardees are noted in bold.

AD&T/HCRI joint awardee:

Advanced imaging analysis of competitive cell interactions in cancer progression

Pinar Zorlutuna and Jeremiah Zartman

This project is aimed at building a new imaging platform with which to study, in real time, both normal and cancer cells in the same culture. The device will give researchers unprecedented spatial and temporal control over the cells and their interactions and may lead to the development of novel treatments that are distinct from traditional chemo- or immunotherapies. As one reviewer put it, “the beauty of this concept is its simplicity and adaptability.”

AD&T awards in Precision Medicine:

Magneto-electric nanoparticles for cancer treatments

Gary Bernstein, Wolfgang Porod, Gyorgy Csaba, Matt Leevy, Sharon Stack, and Sakhrat Khizroev

The goal of this partnership with Florida International University’s Wertheim College of Medicine is to develop extremely small, electrically charged particles that can selectively penetrate the membranes of cancer cells and deliver chemotherapy drugs right where they are needed. Though applicable to a wide range of cancers, this initial study will focus on improving the treatment of ovarian cancer using both human cell lines and mouse models, and it, too, involves the active participation of HCRI researchers.

Naked eye assay to detect influenza viruses and measure drug susceptibility

Brad Smith

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention associates over 200,000 annual hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths to the seasonal influenza virus. The gold standard for flu diagnosis is viral culture, which requires several days to develop, while current quick-response tests involve expensive equipment and training. This project is an effort to demonstrate a new rapid and low-cost diagnostic test for influenza viruses that emits red light, visible to the naked eye, when viewed under a simple handheld UV lamp. After optimization, the test will be useable in doctor’s offices and at home. Not only will the test reduce the misuse of antibiotics and slow the spread of viral drug resistance, it will also indicate to physicians whether individual patients will respond better one of two major antiviral drugs, Zanamivir or Oseltamivir, enhancing the precision of their treatment.

Role of YAP and TAZ in mechanical control of vasculogenesis

Joel Boerckel, Mervin Yoder, and Sherry Voytik-Harbin

The objective of this project, a collaboration between Notre Dame, Purdue University, and the Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana University School of Medicine, is to understand the way two particular proteins, called YAP and TAZ, affect the body’s ability to grow new blood vessels and bone in response to wounds, traumatic injuries, or disease. The molecular mechanisms that underlie this growth are unclear, but these two factors are thought to play an important role in such “neovascular regeneration.” The findings of this work could have direct application to tissue engineering and the identification of novel therapeutic targets and regeneration strategies.

A urine-based rapid screening test for patients suffering from drug addiction

Satyajyoti Senapati, Sunny Shah, and Algis Baliunas

This partnership with Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN, proposes to use a microfluidic detection platform already invented by the team for the rapid and accurate detection of signs of drug use in addicted patients. If successful, it would open up the possibility of faster screening for drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and opiates, in patients long after the drug has disappeared from physiological samples. Drug screening is done today in hospitals, but current technology is cumbersome and expensive. Instead, the device would detect a biomarker produced in response to drug use, miR-212, and enable doctors to monitor individuals as they move along the trajectory of addiction.

AD&T award in disease diagnostics:

A SERS-based approach for sensing small molecules

Jon Camden and Samuel Kleinman

This work, which is being conducted in collaboration with chemical analysis company OndaVia, will help biomedical researchers understand better the roles of hydrogen peroxide, nitrogen monoxide, and other small molecules in different biological and disease processes through a technique known as surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). The project builds on a previous AD&T award which enabled the investigators to use SERS to detect hydrazine, an environmental pollutant, with high sensitivity in lake water samples. The new effort is focused on improving the detection of molecules that have been implicated in aging and diseases such as chronic inflammation, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

AD&T award in environmental diagnostics:

Paper analytical devices for detection and quantification of ground-level air pollutants

Marya Lieberman

This project involves the design and testing of a new paper analytical device for monitoring ground-level air pollution that is three orders of magnitude less expensive than commercial ozone sensors. The proposed device will be able to detect ozone, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides, and can be used to build maps of ground level air pollution across a region. This is particularly important for the young, elderly, and poor living in areas susceptible to high levels of air pollution, which is a significant risk factor for respiratory infections, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

For more information about Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics, please contact Arnie Phifer at or (574) 631-3057.

Originally published by Arnie Phifer at on September 08, 2015.