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Harvard scientist Dr. Joshua LaBaer to head Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics

Dr. Joshua LaBaerFebruary 17, 2009
In a significant boost for an Arizona-based personalized medicine initiative, the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust are pleased to announce Joshua LaBaer, M.D., Ph.D., as director of the new Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics. Dr. LaBaer most recently served as director of the Harvard Institute of Proteomics.

Funded by a multimillion gift from Piper Trust, the Center for Personalized Diagnostics will pursue earlier, more accurate diagnosis of diseases including lung cancer and diabetes. It will leverage the latest capabilities in personalized medicine, an emerging field with potential to improve patient treatments and outcomes by factoring in an individual’s unique genetic and metabolic profile.

The Center occupies 8,000 sq. ft. within the Biodesign Institute. In addition to the recruitment of LaBaer, the Piper Trust’s philanthropic investment supports development of the research team and laboratory infrastructure such as a state-of-the-art robotic system for gene cloning.

“Dr. LaBaer is one of a handful of innovators who could be labeled trailblazers in the relatively new field of proteomics, which is a crucial technology for profiling the molecular changes in disease and a key for more personalized approaches to medicine,” said Dr. George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute and chief scientist for ASU’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative. “The generosity of the Piper Trust enabled us to recruit a true leader in the field and provide his team with the sophisticated laboratory needed to do this type of research. I am confident Dr. LaBaer and his team will help place Arizona at the forefront of personalized medicine research,” said Poste.

“In the future, we will look back at our current list of illnesses as a gross oversimplification,” said LaBaer. “Already, in our modern era of molecular medicine, we are learning that what we have thought about as single diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or breast cancer actually include many different molecular variations, each with a different root cause, a different prognosis and a response to specific therapies. Our lab hopes to help develop new diagnostic tools that pinpoint the specific molecular disease for each patient and directs physicians to the right therapeutic strategy for that individual.”

With this appointment, LaBaer becomes ASU’s first Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine. The Partnership is a broad effort launched in 2007 by the Piper Trust and Flinn Foundation to take advantage of Arizona’s emerging strengths in the area of personalized medicine. LaBaer will also have an academic appointment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“The promise of personalized medicine is twofold: to increase patient outcomes and to reduce healthcare costs,” said Dr. Judy Mohraz, President and CEO of Piper Trust. “The Piper trustees have made $35 million in investments in this area of research because we believe it is the future of medicine, and that Arizona is uniquely positioned to become a leader in this arena. Dr. LaBaer’s appointment is a major boost to this effort.”

“We are especially excited to be doing this in Arizona where there is a strong collaborative atmosphere and a palpable excitement about this new direction for medicine,” said LaBaer. “Arizona’s interest in new technological approaches and the willingness of its various clinical stakeholders to come together to build a statewide biorepository are just what we need to be successful.”

LaBaer’s team will play a major role in biomarker discovery and validation for lung cancer and diabetes in collaboration with the larger Partnership for Personalized Medicine, which also includes TGen in Phoenix and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle.

LaBaer created the Institute of Proteomics as a research program within the Harvard Medical School to promote collaborative research and discoveries. Using new high-throughput technologies, his team advanced the discipline of functional proteomics, which seeks to understand the roles of all the proteins made in the human body. They also developed new technologies to discover new disease targets, including the identification of blood-borne markers to discover the molecular signatures of the autoimmune cause of Type I diabetes as well as identification of cancer markers.

An underpinning of this work has been the creation of vast repositories of protein expression-ready clones for genes in human and other commonly studied organisms that are maintained in a rapid-access storage facility and usable in the widest possible range of experimental protocols. More than 100,000 clones have been sent to laboratories worldwide.

The Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics at ASU will be the focal part of biomarker discovery and validation in a high throughput and high quality control manner. Effective biomarkers have the potential to improve health care and reduce costs by detecting diseases at an earlier stage when they are more easily managed and by more effectively managing patients to handle disease. Currently, one out of every seven U.S. dollars is spent on health care, and 75 percent of health care costs are for treating five chronic diseases (diabetes, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, asthma and depression).

LaBaer was educated at Washington High School in Phoenix, attended the University of California at Berkeley as an undergraduate Regents Scholar and completed medical school and graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, where he studied steroid regulation of DNA transcription and protein-DNA interactions.

LaBaer completed his internship and residency at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellowship in Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston. He is a board certified physician in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology and was an Instructor and Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. LaBaer has contributed more than 60 original research publications, reviews and chapters.LaBaer is an associate editor of the Journal of Proteome Research, Analytical Biochemistry, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Boards for the Proteome Society, Promega Corporation, Lumera-Plexera Corportation, Barnett Institute, and a founding member of the Human Proteome Organization.

This announcement demonstrates the benefit that a research university like ASU provides to the State of Arizona. Each year, Arizona’s universities pump almost $1 billion into the state’s economy through research projects, which are funded by the U.S. government and other organizations like the Piper Charitable Trust. Research funds are legally restricted and may not be used for instructional purposes.

Media Contacts:
Biodesign Institute
Joe Caspermeyer, 480-727-0369 (ph), 480-313-2010(cl)

Piper Trust
Jane Ferguson, 480-556-7125 (ph), 480-252-0008 (cl)

About the Biodesign Institute at ASU
The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University pursues research to create personalized medical diagnostics and treatments, outpace infectious disease, clean the environment, develop alternative energy sources, and secure a safer world. Using a team approach that fuses the biosciences with nanoscale engineering and advanced computing, the Biodesign Institute collaborates with academic, industrial and governmental organizations globally to accelerate these discoveries to market. For more information, go to:

About Piper Trust
A private independent foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust honors Virginia Galvin Piper’s philanthropic commitment to changing lives and strengthening community in Maricopa County (Arizona). By investing in nonprofits and encouraging strategic planning for the future, Piper Trust strives to make Maricopa County a stronger, more nurturing and vibrant community. Since it began awarding grants in 2000, Piper Trust has invested more than $240 million in local nonprofits and programs. The Trust reported total grants paid of $25.7 million in fiscal year 2008 (ending March 31). Piper Trust grantmaking areas are healthcare and medical research, children, older adults, arts and culture, education and religious organizations. For more information, visit