A North-South collaboration

University of Florida, IROA Technologies band together in pursuit of liver disease biomarkers

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ANN ARBOR, Mich.—IROA Technologies and the University of Florida (UF) have joined forces in a collaboration that will seek out biomarkers for liver cancer and other liver diseases. IROA Technologies will make available its patented software, technology and expertise to support the search, which will also make use of UF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Biorepository, which boasts a broad collection of normal and diseased tissues, and the UF Southeast Center for Integrated Metabolomics (SECIM), which will provide state-of-the-art metabolic profiling using the IROA protocol as a foundation. No financial terms were disclosed.
“We are pleased to be both a partner at SECIM, where clients can send IROA samples for metabolic profiling analysis, and now a collaborator within CTSI for biomarker discovery,” Felice de Jong, CEO of IROA Technologies, commented in a statement. “We are thrilled to be working with two such significant units within the University of Florida. We feel this strength will assure a high probability of success.”
According to de Jong, IROA Technologies and UF will work together to analyze and validate clinical tissue biomarkers in fatty liver disease and liver cancer, with UF providing medical support and data interpretation via a liver disease and mass spectrometry advisory committee. The company has licensed their IROA technology to UF, says de Jong, and will be responsible for aiding UF’s researchers in using the technology, which makes it easier to perform metabolomics and measure metabolites. This is facilitated by the IROA Cluster Finder software, she adds, “which basically removes noise and artifacts and makes it easy to identify metabolites.” In addition, Dr. Chris Beecher, chief scientific officer at IROA Technology, will spend time at UF working with them on biomarker discovery.
“The partnership with IROA Technologies and Dr. Chris Beecher will allow UF to develop novel methods for the identification of biomarkers for human disease. UF and the CTSI are now uniquely positioned to advance and translate metabolomics to improve health for millions of Americans,” Dr. David R. Nelson, an assistant vice president for research at UF and director of the UF CTSI, said in a news release.
“The relationship between IROA Technologies and SECIM keeps us at the cutting edge of new and powerful metabolomics technologies,” added Dr. Art Edison, SECIM director.
Metabolomics is having an “absolutely huge” impact on the drug discovery industry, says de Jong.
“We started back in the 70’s and 80’s looking at genes and genomics, and genes tell us what might happen—you inherit a gene and it may or may not be switched on, so you don’t really know whether you’re going to get the disease—whereas if you look at biochemicals or you look at metabolomics, when you’re sick, your metabolites are out of whack,” she tells DDNews. “Take, for example, cholesterol; if your levels of cholesterol are high, then you know you have problems with perhaps coronary heart disease or arthrosclerosis. So people are really now turning to metabolomics—metabolomics is growing at a compound annual growth rate of about 35 percent. It’s really the next ‘omics science to provide clear biomarkers for disease.”
This is not the first time these two have worked together; in September 2013, IROA partnered with UF to aid in the establishment of SECIM, which had just received a five-year, $9-million grant from the National Institutes of Health. SECIM is part of the CTSI and is working to develop an integrated metabolomics service to offer high-quality data, user-friendly statistical analysis tools, training and pilot funding to aid researchers conducting metabolomics studies.
“The National Institutes of Health has set up six centers of excellence for metabolomics across the country, and the University of Florida (SECIM) was selected as one of these,” de Jong explains. “They have since been starting to run samples for investigators to help them with their metabolomics research projects, and as part of that, our customers, using IROA technology, will be sending samples to SECIM. The SECIM group has been working hard to provide state-of-the-art tools for metabolomics and has become a very powerful group among the centers of excellence.”

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