sealPurdue Biotechnology

Biotechnology At Purdue University

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 the university:

The Agricultural Genomics Initiative

Numerous projects are under way to analyze the gene sequences of plants and animals. The work, funded by USDA, NSF and NIH, 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

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 postmenopausal women. Compounds in green tea are being studied for their ability to inhibit tumor growth.

Discovery Park Bindley Bioscience 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 start up 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 anticancer agents directly to cancer cells. The company's first folate targeted anticancer agent, FolateScan, has completed Phase I/II Federal Drug Administration human clinical trials. Phase I therapeutic trials are under way.

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.

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:

• Crop Improvement: Environmental crop stresses, such as drought, heat, frost and saline soil, 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:

• Risks of Biotechnology: A model to determine the environmental risks of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has been developed by two Purdue 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:

• Ethics of Biotechnology: Paul Thompson, Purdue 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:

• 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 a technique that would allow the same experiments to be conducted using genetically modified zebrafish, which would only cost a few dollars each.

News release:

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

• Devices to Speed Drug Development: The new Center for Membrane Protein Biotechnology at Purdue will team up scientists and engineers for a project that could speed the discovery of drugs to treat numerous diseases, including cancer and cystic fibrosis. Research in the center will concentrate on developing a new class of miniature devices that use cell membranes to screen new drugs – effectively recreating how cancer cells would react to the drugs. The goal is to produce "laboratories-on-a-chip," devices less than a half-inch square that contain up to a million test chambers, each capable of screening an individual drug, said Gil Lee, the project's leader and an associate professor of chemical engineering.

Purdue has filed a patent application for the devices. Leading the effort will be Christine Hrycyna, an assistant professor of chemistry and David Thompson, a professor of chemistry.

• New materials for Artificial Limbs: Thomas Webster, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has pioneered a nanotechnology technique that could result in better artificial body parts, such as prosthetic hips, joints and arteries. Natural bone and tissues contain tiny bumps on their surfaces that are measured on the scale of nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Artificial materials now used for prosthetics are much smoother than natural substances and do not contain the nanometer-scale features. Those features, however, could be critical to keeping the body from rejecting artificial parts. The body reacts to the smooth artificial parts as it would to any foreign invader: it covers the parts with a fibrous tissue intended to kill the unwanted material. This fibrous tissue gets between prosthetic devices and damaged body parts, preventing prostheses from making good contact with the body parts in which they are implanted and interfering with their proper functioning. Webster's work has shown that the body more readily accepts materials containing the tiny bumps and that the bumps also stimulate the body to regrow bone and other types of tissue.

• 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 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:

• 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:

• 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:

• 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 such as 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:

• Nano-biotechnology: Rashid Bashir, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is 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:

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.

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page