UA taps childhood asthma expert as interim leader for BIO5 Institute

February 3, 2009

By hammersmith

Fernando Martinez, one of the world’s foremost experts on childhood asthma, will serve as the interim director of the University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute, UA has announced. Dr. Martinez will assume leadership of BIO5 from Vicki Chandler, who later this month will take on a new role overseeing scientific programs for the San Francisco-based Gordon and Berry Moore Foundation.

Dr. Martinez, a pediatrician and researcher who has been at UA since 1984, will retain his current post as the director of the UA College of Medicine’s Arizona Respiratory Center. He has been involved with BIO5 since the interdisciplinary-research institute’s inception, and he and Dr. Chandler served together as interim directors of BIO5 before Dr. Chandler’s appointment as BIO5 director in 2004.

“I am delighted that Dr. Martinez will become the next director” of BIO5, said Leslie Tolbert, UA’s vice president for research, graduate studies, and economic development. “With his international reputation as a physician-scientist and his commitment to the broad goals of BIO5, I know he will be a superb leader for BIO5’s next phase.”

“In these first seven years, all of us at BIO5 have learned to work together to find better treatments for human disease and more abundant and nutritious foods for humanity,” Dr. Martinez said. “I am totally committed to further expanding these efforts, and to continue supporting, in any way we can, the development of a strong bioscience industry that will provide better jobs and a better future for the people of Arizona.”

BIO5, which concentrates on research projects that demand collaboration across disciplines, pulls in scientists from five research arenas–agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, basic science, and engineering. The institute has brought more than 50 researchers to UA, and BIO5 members have drawn $178 million in research funding to the university, Dr. Chandler said in the Tucson Citizen.

The largest award BIO5 has won to date is also the largest biosciences award ever for an Arizona institution: a $50 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the iPlant Collaborative, a project aimed at turning integrative, computational conceptual approaches into advances in the plant sciences. Dr. Chandler will retain her role as iPlant’s principal investigator despite her move to the Moore Foundation; under an agreement with the Moore Foundation, 20 percent of her time will be designated to continuing her research at UA.

Dr. Martinez is a prodigious researcher himself: he has authored more than 160 published scientific papers, and is currently the principal investigator on a $44 million contract from the National Institutes of Health to lead Arizona’s component of the National Children’s Study. That study, expected to begin enrolling participants next year, will follow 100,000 children throughout the United States from before birth to age 21, examining the consequences of environmental factors on subjects’ health and development.

The National Children’s Study’s broad scope fits well Dr. Martinez’s approach to investigating disease. In a career of examining the complex of factors that contribute to childhood asthma, he has drawn on epidemiological, genetic, physiologic, and immunobiologic approaches. With colleagues at the Arizona Respiratory Center, he is devoting particular attention to the interactions of genetic and environmental factors in development of asthma. This and related research projects draw on the expertise of scientists in the UA College of Pharmacy, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, the Arizona Genomics Institute, and Arizona Research Laboratories.

“We are all aware that some of the challenges we have in biology mean we will have to move toward larger and larger research groups, including going beyond individual universities,” Dr. Martinez said in the Tucson Citizen.

For more information:

UA chooses interim director for BIO5 Institute,” Tucson Citizen, 02/03/2009

UA news release, 02/02/2009