DCU forms partnership with Arizona State University

Universities combine skills for better outputs in research, IP and social benefit

University partnership: ASU president Dr Michael Crow (left) and DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith

University partnership: ASU president Dr Michael Crow (left) and DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith

Mon, Sep 23, 2013, 01:00

After years of informal collaboration, last week Dublin City University announced a more concrete partnership with Arizona State University.

Why? The two universities want to combine their skills more effectively and they expect outputs in research, intellectual property and social benefit, according to DCU’s president, Prof Brian MacCraith.

“The relationship with ASU will lead to several kinds of translational outputs,” he says. “We expect this to improve the lives of individuals of all ages, to create intellectual property and spin-outs and to attract foreign direct investment – and there is a job creation aspect to this as well.”

The partnership has been a while growing. Researchers from ASU and DCU have been working together in areas of shared interest for seven years, and last year the universities decided to create a more structured arrangement, according to MacCraith. Last Monday they announced the “Transatlantic Higher Education Partnership”, which will see them offering joint programmes on student entrepreneurship, developing age-friendly universities, establishing an International School of Biomedical Diagnostics and setting up a healthcare research initiative called BioDesign Europe.

Biomedical diagnostics
It’s expected that next year the first crop of students will start a new Masters-level programme through the International School of Biomedical Diagnostics, which is to be established by ASU and the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute at DCU in partnership with US company Ventana Medical Systems.

The focus will be on diagnostics for more personalised, stratified medicine and the course will be “industry informed”, says MacCraith.

“There’s a need for a new type of graduate in this space with a knowledge of the regulatory issues on both sides of the Atlantic,” he says. “And we recognised the huge potential in a school that would have two nodes, one at ASU and one at DCU.”

Inspired by Nature
Meanwhile BioDesign Europe will link health research groups in DCU with ASU’s BioDesign Institute, which looks to natural systems for solutions in areas such as human health and sustainable energy.

“Nature has always found ways to efficiently solve a range of challenges and hence provides the inspiration as we attempt to find solutions for various problems faced by society,” says Dr Sethuraman (Panch) Panchanathan, ASU’s senior vice-president, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

Projects at ASU’s BioDesign Institute include analysing the biochemistry of photosynthesis to design new systems for harvesting solar energy and converting light into fuel, and looking to harness the power of salmonella to deliver vaccines.

“BioDesign Institute scientists have genetically engineered the microbe, neutralising its ability to cause harm,” says Panchanathan. “As salmonella is so good at infiltrating the human body, they want to use it like a Trojan horse to deliver vaccines orally.”

BioDesign Europe will bring together complementary strengths in ASU and DCU, he adds. “This presents a tremendous opportunity to leverage the investments made in US and Europe and help find solutions that are efficient, timely and cost-effective.”

BioDesign Europe will focus initially on improved treatment for cancer patients, says Prof MacCraith: “We will be combining advances in early diagnostic techniques with more targeted therapeutics.”

ASU president Dr Michael Crow says “ASU [and] DCU are natural partners because they are young institutions committed to serving the needs of their respective communities and nations through an entrepreneurial approach to higher education. DCU offers ASU a platform for entry into and engagement with Europe and complementary expertise which can be applied to our focus areas of research.”