Return on Investment 

  • Since its inception, Biodesign has attracted more than $400 million in extramural funding from competitive grant awards as well as support from philanthropic and industry sources. 
  • In FY2014, Biodesign researchers received $62 million in external funding for research activities. Recently, the institute won Arizona’s Excellence in Economic Development award for its innovative contributions to the state’s economic growth. 
  • Working with ASU’s IP and technology transfer arm, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), Biodesign Institute scientists have disclosed more than 500 inventions since inception, resulting in more than 200 U.S. and international patent filings, 40 patents issued, and a dozen spin-out ventures. 
  • Biodesign’s contributions to the State’s workforce development include annual employment and training of more than 50 postdoctoral researchers and 300 undergraduate and graduate students who will go on to matriculate and enter the workforce. 
  • Biodesign has also provided hands-on research experiences for undergraduates, high school students and high school teachers to advance Arizona’s STEM education.
  • To advance its research mission, the Biodesign Institute has established 12 research centers and now has more than 200 research projects underway. Its 65 tenured research faculty, one Nobel Laureate and four National Academy members among them, publish in top-tier, high impact scientific journals and collaborate with research, clinical and commercial enterprises around the world.

The accomplishments highlighted demonstrate the Biodesign Institute’s substantial success as a cornerstone of Arizona State University’s strategy to propel ASU into the top tier of the world’s research universities.The State of Arizona and ASU’s administration have received a significant return on their investments in the Institute, generous backing that served as the key catalyst in advancing Biodesign’s goal of becoming a world-class, entrepreneurial research enterprise to improve human health and the health and security of our planet.


Major Recent Research Awards ($3 million or above)

  • Stephen Johnston, George Poste and Neal Woodbury are leading a four-year, $30 million contract from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a novel diagnostic technology called immunosignaturing for rapid detection of exposure to infectious disease agents before symptoms occur.
  • ASU partnered with Life Technologies Corporation on a $9.33 million phase of a five- year, $33 million U.S. DHHS-funded project led by Joshua LaBaer, director of the Center for Personalized Diagnostics, for commercial development of technologies to rapidly assess radiation dose in the event of a nuclear incident.
  • Joshua LaBaer was awarded a $6.5 million NIH grant to expand a genetic archive known as DNASU or the Protein Structure Initiative-Materials Repository.
  • Hao Yan, director of the new Center for Molecular Design and Biomimicry, was awarded a five-year, $6.25 million award from the DoD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.
  • Yung Chang, of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, and Hao Yan lead a team that launched a $3.3 million project from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to battle nicotine addiction by designing a vaccine using novel nanoscale structures assembled from DNA.
  • Roy Curtiss, Kenneth Roland, Wei Kong and Praveen Alamuri of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology were awarded $5.4 million NIH grant to develop Salmonella-vectored vaccines to prevent gastroenteritis, enteric fever, typhoid fever, plague, dysentery and influenza and perform preclinical evaluations to support conduct of Phase I clinical trials.
  • Randy Nelson and Chad Borges of the Molecular Biomarkers Laboratory were awarded$4.64 million by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to translate novel biomarkers for diabetes into drug development. The project involves collaborators at the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System, the University of Arizona and Pfizer.
  • Stuart Lindsay, director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, was awarded a$4.1 million grant from the NIH to further develop recognition tunneling technology designed to rapidly sequence a person’s complete genome.
  • John Chaput, of the Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, and Joshua LaBaer were awarded a three-year, $4 million grant from the NIH to develop a pipeline for generating a revolutionary class of reagents.
  • Stephen Johnston of the Center for Innovations in Medicine was awarded a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop and test new chip platforms to monitor health and sources of infection.
  • Lee Hartwell and Michael Birt were awarded a three-year, $3 million grant from theVirginia G. Piper Charitable Trust to expand Biodesign’s Center for Sustainable Health.


Technology Transfer Highlights

  • Breezing, an ASU spin-off co-founded by N.J. Tao and Erica Forzani, launched the world's first portable metabolism monitor that can analyze and track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight.
  • HealthTell Inc., a spinout company co-founded by Neal Woodbury and Stephen Albert Johnston and focused on early disease detection, was selected as the Start-up of the Year at the 2012 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation.
  • Industrial Liaison Program: Sidney Hecht led the Industrial Liaison task at Biodesign to foster and help diversify private industry support of institute research.
  • Intrinsic Bioprobes acquired by Thermo: Dr. Randall Nelson, Director, Molecular Biomarkers, sold the ASU spinout he founded in 1996, Intrinsic Bioprobes Inc. (IBI), to Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s largest supplier of scientific instrumentation.
  • Stuart Lindsay, Director, Single Molecule Biophysics, licensed technologies to Roche that will be part of a single-molecule, nanopore DNA sequencer to rapidly decode an individual’s complete genome for less than $1,000.
  • Nongjian (NJ) Tao and Xiaojun Xian of the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors partnered with European pharmaceutical company Z-cube to license ASU technology aimed at developing a better monitor for chronic respiratory diseases.
  • ARBSource: Mark Sholin (PhD student), with Biodesign faculty advisors César Torres, Bruce Rittmann, and Sudeep Popat of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, founded this start-up venture for wastewater treatment. ARBSource placed second at the Idea2Product Global Competition in Stockholm, Sweden in November, 2011.


Attracting Top Talent for Leadership and New Centers

  • Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally renowned physician-scientist whose research has advanced the understanding of the molecular basis for the prevention of colon cancer, was named the Institute’s new Executive Director.  DuBois also holds the Dalton Chair in ASU’s School of Health Solutions with joint appointments in chemistry and biochemistry and at the Mayo Clinic Arizona, co-leading their cancer prevention program.
  • Joshua LaBaer, M.D. Ph.D., took his post directing Biodesign’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics in the summer of ‘09, and has since received contract and grant awards totaling $15 million. His team is focused on discovery and validation of molecular fingerprints of disease (biomarkers), which can provide early warning for cancer, diabetes and other conditions.
  • Arizona’s first recruitment of a Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Leland (Lee) Hartwell, Ph.D. was named Chief Scientist of Biodesign’s Center for Sustainable Health. The Center addresses core issues impeding better health outcomes at lower cost,
  • including social and policy barriers and lack of uniform metrics. The Center is directed by policy expert Michael Birt, Ph.D.
  • Rolf Halden, Ph.D., was appointed to lead the Center for Environmental Security (CES), with the charter of protecting human health and critical ecosystems from chemical and biological threats in the environment. The new Center is the 11th in the Biodesign Institute, and the first partnership to leverage expertise and resources of ASU’s Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI).
  • ASU Professor Hao Yan, Ph.D. was appointed director of the new Center for Molecular Design and Biomimicry (CMDB), Biodesign’s 12th center, launched in FY14. The Center will advance 21st century discoveries having a major impact on the fields of biomedicine,energy research and bioelectronics.


Recent Research Highlights and Milestones

  • Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown has explored the links between microbial gut composition and various diseases, finding key differences between obese and normal weight individuals, and in a new study, children with autism. Her ultimate research goal is to develop therapeutic modifications of the gut microbiome for future treatment of nutrition-related maladies, including obesity and health consequences linked to malnutrition.
  • Chad Borges investigated a promising class of potential biomarkers, sugar molecules known as glycans, to accurately pinpoint the presence of lung cancer in patient blood samples with up to 90 percent reliability.
  • Lee Hartwell, in collaboration with ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, led a new online course, Sustainability Science for Teachers, along with School of Sustainability alumna Annie Warren and Teachers College Assistant Professor Leanna Archambault. Archambault received a 2012 Learning Innovator Award for outstanding research by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. The course aims to provide future educators with successful teaching methods to engage younger students in sustainability science.
  • In research published in PLOS ONE, Shelley Haydel and her graduate student, Caitlin Otto, demonstrated that certain varieties of clay have the ability to aggressively kill a range of pathogens including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a stubborn, highly contagious and dangerous pathogen.
  • For their biomimicry work on creating synthetic DNA-like genetic materials, an international research team led by John Chaput garnered recognition by Discover magazine as one of its top research stories of 2012.
  • Rolf Halden conducted the first statewide survey that found antimicrobial compounds present in sediments of Minnesota’s rivers, creeks and lakes, leading to a banning across state agencies of the use of personal care products containing the active ingredients triclosan (TCS) and triclocarban (TCC).
  • Qiang “Shawn” Chen, a Biodesign Institute researcher and professor in the College of Technology and Innovation has developed a new method of testing for West Nile virus, using plants to produce biological reagents for detection and diagnosis.
  • •In a discovery published in the journal Science that represented a major step forward in solving a critical design challenge, Hao Yan led a research team to produce a wide variety of 2-D and 3-D structures that pushed the boundaries in the burgeoning field of DNA nanotechnology.
  • NJ Tao published in Nature Nanotechnology and Nature Chemistry several innovative techniques to measure nanoparticle catalysts and examine proteins in live cells, which may speed up the drug discovery and development pipeline.
  • ASU scientists, including Bruce Rittmann and Willem Vermaas, have developed several new methods to improve the yield and lower the costs of high-energy, renewable biofuels production.
  • Sudhir Kumar developed a sophisticated bioinformatics tool, called RelTime, to generate relative evolutionary time information for the history of life on Earth without using the fossil record or complicated model parameters. His findings were published in PNAS.
  • In a study published in PNAS, Xinyao Liu, Sarah Fallon and Roy Curtiss, Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, and Jie Sheng, Environmental Biotechnology, developed photosynthetic bacteria that secrete fatty acids and enable green recovery of biofuels by carbon dioxide limitation.
  • Fengyu Su, Ruhaniyah Alam, Qian Mei, Yanqing Tian and Deirdre Meldrum, working in the Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation, developed a method of introducing stable and sensitive molecules that fluoresce when exposed to light that is useful for the study of living cells.
  • Hao Yan, of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, expanded the capability of DNA origami to construct 3-D spherical shapes. This may lead to advances in medical monitoring, drug delivery, and nanoscale electronics. Imagery from the paper was featured the cover of Science.
  • Ismael Perez, Joshua Hihath, Thomas Hines and NJ Tao, of the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, demonstrated a clever way to control electrical conductance of a single molecule by exploiting the molecule’s mechanical properties. The study was published in Nature Nanotechnology.
  • In a study published in PNAS, Jacquelyn Kilbourne, Charles Arntzen, Shawn Chen and Hugh Mason, of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, demonstrated that a plant-derived vaccine for Ebola virus provides strong immunological protection in a mouse model.
  • Wei Wang and NJ Tao, of the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors, published a new technique to peer into single cells and intracellular processes with unprecedented clarity in the journal Nature Chemistry.
  • Stephen Albert Johnston, of the Center for Innovations in Medicine, led a $4 million DARPA project completing a live-fire exercise to make a new antibiotic for an unknown pathogen in less than 14 days.
  • Cheryl Nickerson, of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, launched a study aboard the final space shuttle Atlantis mission to enhance the efficacy of a recombinant attenuated Salmonella vaccine. The study was carried out in collaboration with Roy Curtiss, center Director.
  • Joshua LaBaer published a special feature in the May 11, 2012 issue of the journal Science highlighting his Center’s protein array technology.
  • Stuart Lindsay, director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, was featured in the News Focus section of the journal Science in a piece describing recent advances in DNA sequencing technology. Lindsay’s latest experimental results, which demonstrate critical improvements in DNA reads, appeared in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
  • John Chaput led a group that demonstrated for the first time, in a paper published in Science, that six unnatural nucleic acid polymers (XNAs) are capable of sharing information with DNA. One of these XNAs, a molecule referred to as anhydrohexitol nucleic acid, or HNA, was capable of undergoing directed evolution and folding into biologically useful forms.
  • Joseph Blattman, in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, examined how CD8 T cells, critical weapons in the body’s defensive arsenal, are regulated when they transition from this tolerant state to an activated state and back. The study was published in Science.
  • Melha Mellata, Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, led a team of researchers investigating disease-causing E. coli strains known as APEC (for Avian Pathogenic E. coli).  The group uncovered some of the tricks used by these highly adaptive organisms to survive, even in the face of daunting environmental challenges.
  • Deirdre Meldrum, ASU Senior Scientist and Director, Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation, examined normal, benign and malignant cells using the Cell-CT, a specialized instrument capable of imaging cells in 3-D with true isotropic resolution.
  • N.J. Tao created a graphene transistor composed of 13 benzene rings and new imaging technology to significantly improve the detection of trace chemicals important in such areas as national security, human health and the environment. The research results were published in Nature Communications.
  • Stephen Johnson pioneered a method for taking a snapshot of a person’s immune system, paving the way for simple, inexpensive tests that could be used frequently enough to detect disease at the earliest possible stage, before symptoms appear. The work was published in the journal Vaccine.
  • Hao Yan, publishing in Nature as part of a multi-institutional team that programmed a molecular robot made of DNA to maneuver along a DNA track. Potential applications include identifying and destroying cancer cells or assembling nanoscale electrical components.
  • Roy Curtiss, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, entered clinical trials with a vaccine candidate he produced against newborn pneumonia.
  • Qiang “Shawn” Chen, in a study published in PNAS, led a team of Biodesign researchers who developed a treatment demonstrated to halt West Nile viral infection.


Recent Accolades and Honors

  • Bert Jacobs was selected for a Fulbright Specialist’s Program in the Republic of South Africa at the University of Cape Town, where he provided lectures on the prospects for an HIV vaccine in the near future, and on HIV prevention education. Another Fulbright honoree, Erica Hartmann, was the very first to have completed her Ph.D. dissertation in ASU’s Biological Design program. Hartmann continued her research under the Fulbright U.S. student program at the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, or CEA, a French public establishment similar to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • ASU chemical engineer César Torres was honored with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) 2012 Young Investigator Award. The honor recognizes his contributions to bioenergy research conducted in the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology.
  • Lee Hartwell and Ray DuBois were among an elite group of scientists elected Fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
  • The Biodesign Institute was profiled as one of World’s Greenest Buildings, in a new book that cited 55 buildings (just 15 in the U.S.) for innovative environmental architecture and design achievements.
  • Cheryl Nickerson received NASA’s prestigious Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for outstanding scientific contributions in support of the manned spaceflight program.
  • Joshua LaBaer is president-elect of the U.S. Human Proteome Organization (HUPO). A founding member, LaBaer will become HUPO’s sixth president, serving from 2014-2016. LaBaer was also selected as a finalist for the Phoenix Business Journal’s Health Care Hero Award for discoveries in breast cancer detection and treatment.
  • Sudhir Kumar, Director, Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, was elected president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution for 2012-2014 at the 2011 annual meeting in Kyoto, Japan.
  • Sidney Hecht, Director, Center for BioEnergetics, earned a 2011 faculty achievement award for his innovation and leadership in drug design and development towards a cure for mitochondrial diseases.
  • Bruce Rittmann, Director, Environmental Biotechnology, was named a Fellow of the International Water Association and earned an Environmental Engineering Excellence Award from the American Association of Environmental Engineers.
  • N.J. Tao, Director, Bioelectronics and Biosensors, was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for contributions to the areas of science and engineering.
  • Laura Gonzalez, Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, Center for Environmental Biotechnology, were selected for Phoenix Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” list that honors young leaders in the metropolitan area.



  • An important component for growth of the Biodesign Institute and capacity building project initiatives are collaborations, partnerships, and strategic alliances with some of the world’s leading institutions. Increasing involvement with non-ASU researchers such as the Mayo Clinic, TGen, Barrow Neurological Institute, and others provides additional opportunities to expand and enhance ASU research.
  • Dr. Michael Birt, Dr. Lee Hartwell, Center for Sustainable Health, Established the first Biosignatures Center in its Global Biosignatures Network between ASU and Taiwan’s Chang Gung University to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. The Center has launched a second Biosignatures Center with Sun Yat-sen University that will focus on colorectal cancer.
  • Cheryl Nickerson, as part of ASU’s Space Act agreement, has a research project to be flown on SpaceX Dragon, slated for the International Space Station in 2014. Nicknamed PHOENIX, the project will mark the first time a whole, living organism, a nematode, will be infected with a pathogen under microgravity conditions while being monitored in real time during the infection process.
  • Discussions with other ASU Institutes on joint research opportunities such as the Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI) and Flexible Display Center(FDC)


Outreach & Workforce Development 

The Biodesign Institute is a beacon for high school, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral education and bioscience training, providing workforce development in high-paying jobs for the state. Despite economic uncertainty, Biodesign provided a training pipeline for postdocs and graduate students to enter the workforce in FY13. The Institute also provides undergraduate research opportunities and public outreach. 

  • ASU Night of the Open Door. Science came to life for more than 1,000 visitors when the Biodesign Institute engaged in ASU’s inaugural Night of the Open Door event in March. The community outreach event was part of the month-long Arizona SciTech Festival. 
  • ASU Homecoming. Biodesign has participated in the annual block party for ASU Homecoming, attracting more than 1,000 visitors to interactive exhibits and hands-on science activities aimed at spurring interest in science to area youths.



ASU’s research enterprise, students and the community have greatly benefited from TRIF support. The funds have been instrumental in not only funding research activities but also serving as motivation for ASU to think strategically about the direction of the research enterprise and where ASU is best suited to create, influence and respond to opportunities that impact the lives of individuals locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.