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ASU Biodesign Institute looks to find a cure for cancer

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TEMPE, Ariz. -

Everyone knows someone touched by cancer -- a relative, a friend, a loved one.  Saving their lives is now the mission of a brand new biology lab at Arizona State University.

At the ASU Biodesign Institute, scientists there want to find cancer before it does any harm.

"It stores samples at 80 degrees below zero, so it's really cold," said Dr. Josh LaBaer, the director of the facility.  "The main focus here is to solve problems."

It's the ASU Biodesign Institute for pioneering technologies for the prevention and early prediction of disease.

"In particular, our laboratory is very interested in proteins," said LaBaer.

Sounds very clinical, but what they really want to do here is save lives.

"The earlier we catch cancer, the better we have a chance of curing it and if we can catch it before the patient even knows he has it, we have a very good chance of stopping it completely," said LaBaer.

Scientists from just about every discipline -- biologists, physicists, engineers -- work at this lab daily.

"He's looking at a patient's serum, their blood responding to all the thousands of proteins to look for spots that are indicative of their disease," explained LaBaer.

They examine human blood for something they call markers -- early indications of cancer.

"The best way for us to do this we think, is to find these markers in the blood that betray the presence of the cancer," said LaBaer.

And they want to develop routine tests to detect it.

"As many of us who have had experience with cancer know, cancer can be diagnosed from various stages from the very early stage one disease to late stage four disease.. the later the stage of the disease, the more likely the disease has even invaded locally or has spread.  We want to catch it before any of that happens.  We want to catch it before the disease has a chance to get out," said LaBaer.  "This means we have a better chance of removing it either by surgery or by other methods and curing the patient completely."

And they have the latest hi-tech tools to help them here, including gene sequencers and various robotic assistance to keep the research on track.

"You can see all these various robots are doing something all at the same time."

These robots do the work students used to do.

"These robotic arms will transfer trays from one position to another you see its about to throw one away."

But it's not just research for research sake at the Biomedical Institute.

"We are trying to come up with research that can be translated into real world solutions," said LaBaer.

They hope all this technology and know-how will someday soon keep everyone healthier.

"We are making huge advances in terms of understanding what causes disease and we hope that will lead to better treatments for disease."

The ASU Biomedical Institute has joined forces with Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland.  Both depend in part on private donations to operate.

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University - www.biodesign.asu.edu

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