Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative


Biotechnology research at Purdue University encompasses a major part of the university's research activity. The combined strengths in science, agriculture, veterinary medicine, consumer and family sciences, pharmacy, and engineering position Purdue well to develop interdisciplinary biotechnology research programs.

Funding for projects in biotechnology represents approximately 35 percent of the awards made to Purdue. Annual funding for biotechnology research exceeds $70 million with an estimated 400-500 faculty involved in biotech research.

Following is a listing and brief description of some of the major biotechnology research initiatives that are under way at Purdue:

The Agricultural Genomics Initiative

Numerous projects are under way to analyze the gene sequences of plants and animals. The work, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, aims to fight animal and plant disease, grow better crops and develop environmentally friendly industrial processes.

Center on Enhancing Foods to Protect Health

The center was created to promote the study of nutraceuticals and designed/functional foods.

Center for Pharmaceutical Processing Research

Research aimed to better understand, at a molecular level, how processing conditions influence the quality of pharmaceuticals. It is one of the few centers in the world where pharmaceutical companies jointly collaborate.

Environmental Sciences and Engineering Institute (ESEI)

The mission of ESEI is to provide cutting-edge and cost-effective solutions to environmental problems.

Midwest Hazardous Substance Research Center for Integrated Remediation Using Managed Natural Systems

The center supports collaborative research and technology transfer efforts focused on integrated remediation technologies that remove contaminants from the environment, restore ecosystem quality and enhance site redevelopment options.

Botanicals Center

Soy products and ingredients are being tested for their ability to replace estrogen and protect against bone loss in postmenapausal women. Compounds in green tea are being studied for their ability to inhibit tumor growth.

Discovery Park Bioscience/Engineering Center

The new bioscience center will play a leading role in the effort to partner bioscientists with other disciplines. The center will focus initially on the important interdisciplinary fields of proteomic analysis and biomedical engineering.

Virus Assembly and Transmission

Research efforts focus on virus structure-function relationships and the development of technologies that make use of information on how plant and animal viruses are transmitted and assembled, and how they attach to and interact with their hosts.

Purdue Cancer Center

Research programs aim to develop novel types of anticancer drugs and investigate their mechanism of action. There are very few of these centers in the U.S. and Purdue is the only university without a medical school to have one.

Other major efforts include Purdue's Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Center and the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, as well as programs and initiatives in food science safety, paralysis research, proteomics, bioinformatics, combinatorial chemistry, and nanotechnology research in biology.

Biotech Companies at Purdue Research Park

Biotechnology research at Purdue also has led to the startup of several companies, many of which are lead by Purdue faculty members. Examples include:

Endocyte Inc. – Work focuses on the use of the vitamin folate in both the early diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of cancer. Purdue researchers developed a drug delivery system to attach diagnostic and therapeutic drugs to the vitamin in order to deliver anti-cancer agents directly to cancer cells. The company's first folate targeted anti-cancer agent, FolateScan, has completed Phase I/II Federal Drug Administration human clinical trials. Phase I therapeutic trials are expected to begin in this summer.

Cook Biotech Inc. – Cook Biotech Inc. researches, develops and manufactures products based on extracellular matrix (ECM) technology invented by a Purdue research team. This biomaterial is derived from pig intestines and used to help heal wounds and injuries in animals and humans. Medical products utilizing this technology are marketed worldwide as a wound dressing or to surgically repair soft tissues.

SSCI, Inc. – A contract research organization that provides a wide range of research and analytical services focused on pharmaceutical and industrial chemical solids. The company helps pharmaceutical industry clients accelerate the pace of drug development and improve the quality of the drugs they offer.

Bioanalytical Systems, Inc. – A leading manufacturer of specialized instrumentation and accessories used in drug metabolism research and pharmaceutical analysis. The company's instruments are used in research laboratories worldwide to promote neuroscience research, environmental research, geological research, pharmaceutical research, clinical chemistry and forensic science.

Bioprocess Engineering, Inc. – Researchers are developing a device that uses molecular proteins to seek pathogens, such as lysteria monocytogenes, in order to provide early detection of dangerous bacteria in ready-made lunch meats, hot dogs and other processed foods. The innovation stemmed from the Purdue Food Safety Engineering Project, a multidisciplinary effort that included experts in computer engineering, food science, agriculture and biomedical engineering.

CurXceL Corp. – Purdue Research Park’s newest science-based business, a biotechnology venture researching possible cures for Alzheimer's Disease.

Biotech in the School of Agriculture

By department:

Agricultural and Biological Engineering: Faculty members are working on projects including bioseparations, biochemical reactors, enzyme genetics and other bioprocess engineering projects.

Agricultural Economics: Research on the economic value of genetically modified crops.

Agronomy: Research on projects including crop genetics and crop improvement.

Animal Sciences: Studies on basic mammal processes, population genetics, developmental biology and livestock improvement.

Biochemistry: Basic science projects such as factors influencing gene expression.

Botany and plant pathology: Faculty members working on projects including plant physiology and biology of pathogens, such as fungi and mycotoxins.

Entomology: Research projects include molecular genetics of pesticide resistance and genetics of pests.

Food Science: Various projects, such as food microbiology and cereal chemistry.

Forestry and Natural Resources: Studies include wildlife population genetics and hardwood genetic improvement.

Horticulture and Landscape Architecture: Faculty members are studying plant stress physiology, plant metabolism and new crop improvement.

Biotech in the School of Science:

Biological Sciences: Various research projects include studies on transgenic mice to analyze fundamental processes underlying cancer and developing designer viruses to deliver genes to specific tissues.

Chemistry: Using biotechnology to develop biomaterials for use in surgical applications; designing drugs to combat genetic diseases by combining DNA with the structural variability of metals; developing new materials for drug delivery and cancer imaging; and developing implantable materials that are responsive to various environmental conditions.

Computer Sciences: Faculty members are working to develop new computational tools for applications such as understanding of the molecular machinery of the cell .

Statistics: Using advances in biotechnology research to identify microbial populations in soil via their DNA profiles, work may lead to higher yields and productivity in agriculture. The studies may be applied to improve diagnostic procedures in medicine by providing a way to quickly identify and characterize microbes associated with diseases. In the area of genomics, studies are under way to investigate the number and magnitude of changes in gene expression and the mechanisms creating these potential changes in plant systems.

Biotech in the School of Pharmacy:

Faculty members are involved in numerous projects, including research on the manufacturing of biotechnology products by freeze-drying, and studies of vaccine formulation.

Biotech in the Schools of Engineering:

Biomedical Engineering: Researchers have discovered new materials that offer promise in repairing and replacing damaged human tissues in parts of the body, ranging from intestines to vocal cords. Some of the materials have been used to save the limbs of people and animals, offering a treatment option that was not previously available.

Chemical Engineering: Various researchers are working in biotechnology/biomedical research areas.

Electrical And Computer Engineering: Various faculty members are involved in interdisciplinary research in biotechnology.

Mechanical Engineering: Researchers have teamed up with medicine to develop diagnostic devices that will be worn like a portable CD player while continually monitoring vital components in the blood. One goal is to create a device that keeps track of blood glucose levels in diabetics. In another project, mechanical engineers are working with chemists, materials engineers, marketing specialists, and private industry to reduce the cost and improve the quality of a high-tech material now used primarily for aircraft brakes. If the researchers are successful, they will make the light-weight, heat-resistant material available for a wide range of new applications, from engine parts to electronic packaging components and even biomedical devices.

Newsworthy biotechnology research projects:

• Proteins on a computer chip: A research team headed by distinguished professor Michael Ladisch has mated proteins to silicon chips. Because proteins react to specific cells, like a key matches a lock, these biochips will be able to identify pathogens in food, diseases in people, biological threats used by terrorists, etc., and transmit the information to a handheld computer.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/0007.Ladisch.biochips.html

• Crop improvement: Environmental crop stresses, such as drought, heat, frost, saline soil, and others, reduce yields more than any pests. Researchers Ray Bressan and Paul Hassegawa, co-directors of the Center for Plant Environmental Stress Physiology, have said that within 10 years, advances in this field will allow farmers to plant two crops each year. This would, in turn, allow marginal farmland to be returned to nature.

News releases:



• Saving endangered species: Small populations of reintroduced or endangered animals can die out because of problems brought on by inbreeding. Gene Rhodes, a Purdue wildlife biologist, is improving the odds for these animals through research into the genomes of wildlife.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/9808.Rhodes.genes.html

• Risks of biotechnology: A model to determine the environmental risks of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has been developed by two Purdue University researchers. William Muir, professor of animal science, says that such an objective test to assess environmental risk could actually make biotechnology more readily accepted by those currently opposed to it, even if the model points out more problems.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/010625.Muir.transgene.html

• Ethics of biotechnology: Paul Thompson, Purdue's professor of philosophy, is one of the nation's few experts on the ethics of biotechnology. Thompson's research focuses on issues surrounding biotechnology.

Web site: https://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agbiotech/biotethic.html

• A new lab rat for science: Medical scientists use genetically modified mice to learn about the function of genes, but these mice can cost up to $100,000 each. Paul Collodi is developing technique that would allow the same experiments to be conducted using genetically modified zebrafish, which would only cost a few dollars each.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/Collodi.zebrafish.html

• Comparative biology: Animals and humans share most of their physiological processes. Because of this, the Purdue School of Agriculture and the I.U. School of Medicine are teaming up to research human health problems using animals as stand-ins.

• Cleaning brownfield sites with plants: Genes thought to allow plants to accumulate large amounts of metal in their tissues have been identified and cloned by a Purdue University scientist. The finding is expected to lead to new crop plants that can clean up industrial contamination, new foods that fight disease and reduced work for some farmers.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/Salt.gene.html

• Forestalling chemical resistance: Entomologist Barry Pittendrigh has developed a method to use pesticides or antibiotics so that genetic resistance doesn't arise in target organisms. The technique, called negative cross-resistance, involves using multiple compounds in a precise way to stop the pests. Pittendrigh says that by using the model it could delay resistance for decades.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/Pittendrigh.resist.html

• Animal reproduction: Animal scientist Rebecca Krisher is working to understand the biology of oocytes, which are fertilized eggs, in order to improve techniques of animal cloning and to provide new therapies for human infertility.

• Crop nutrient transport: The uptake of plant nutrients is one of the major limiting factors of plant growth. Professor K. Raghothama is studying the molecular biology of how plants transport nutrients within their tissues and has made significant progress in this area.

• Plastic from plants: Researchers have cloned a gene that will allow plants to produce plastics. Currently, petroleum is used to make nearly all plastics; it also is used as a base material or solvent in paints, household and industrial chemicals and in thousands of other applications. But researchers say crop plants such as corn or soybeans hold the potential to create plants that provide the starting materials to make the plastics we already have and develop new plastics with never-before-seen properties.

News release: https://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/0102.Chapple.plastics.html

• Environmental cleanup: Engineers are using genetics to develop a simple, quick method for assessing the progress of environmental cleanup efforts at sites contaminated with petroleum-based pollutants like gasoline and diesel fuel. The work is being done by Loring Nies, associate professor of civil engineering and Cindy Nakatsu, an associate professor of agronomy. Their technique works by screening soil for genes that reveal the presence of an enzyme produced by pollution-busting bacteria. If the enzyme is detected, that means bacteria probably are cleaning the soil. Information about the bacteria's presence and concentration might then be used to assess the progress of efforts to remove toxins from the contaminated soil. The method is more effective and faster than conventional soil-testing techniques.

News release: https://news.uns.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/0006.Nies.enzyme.html

• Nanobiotechnology: Rashid Bashir, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, s working on various aspects of "nano-biotechnology." Some of his work in that area focuses on developing "biochips," a technology aimed at making diagnostic devices that could be implanted in the body or used to quickly analyze food and laboratory samples with high sensitivity. His group also is working on developing new micro- and nano-fabrication techniques to glue DNA to silicon devices that self-assemble. That work could result in displays for diagnostic devices. News release:


Intelligent drug delivery: Nicholas Peppas , a professor of chemical engineering, is creating biological sensors for glucose in research that ultimately may help to design "intelligent drug delivery" devices that could be implanted in the body to automatically administer medications such as insulin. Other work by his research group is making progress in creating an insulin pill to replace injections for diabetics. News releases:



Toxin Control by Dietary Metals

Many toxins are present in cooked foods and tobacco smoke. Jonathan Wilker, assistant professor of chemistry, is studying the ability of dietary minerals to detoxify these chemicals prior to cellular damage. The work is aimed at devising strategies to prevent cancer based upon diet supplements. Work is funded by the Cancer Research Foundation of America.

Surgical Applications of Marine Adhesives

Marine organisms such as barnacles and mussels produce glues and cements with properties unrivaled by human technology. Researchers in chemistry, agricultural and biological engineering; and basic medical sciences are exploring ways to use these biomaterials in surgical applications such as wound closure and tissue reconstruction. This work is being funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

New Tools To Study Molecular Machinery Of The Cell.

Computer scientists are developing new computational tools that can be used to determine the three-dimensional structures of individual proteins and the interactions among proteins in complexes. This automated computational-experimental approach promises to yield results much faster and cheaper, and ultimately to enhance the development of targeted pharmaceuticals.