Jennifer K. Barton

Jennifer K. Barton, a world-renowned University of Arizona researcher, is leading an effort to create tiny tools to solve big health problems.

Barton has led a group of medical residents and students in a range of disciplines to create miniature, high-resolution endoscopes that can take images of early-stage cancers of the colon, ovaries and skin. She’s also been at the forefront of a laser treatment for skin blood vessel disorders. Journals have published around 100 papers she’s written on her research.

Barton and her team received a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research to develop a life-saving approach to early detection of ovarian cancer, which is the fifth-leading cancer killer among women, largely because most cases aren’t detected until the disease is widespread.

“We work with our strengths here at the UA and help connect them in new ways. That’s where the exciting developments are happening,” said Barton, who has been on the UA faculty since 1998.


Q: What are the major initiatives of the BIO5 Institute that will have the most impact on the region’s business environment over the next 10 years? 

A: The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona was launched in 2001 with financial support generated by the Technology and Research Initiative Fund – a special investment in higher education made possible by the passage of Proposition 301 by Arizona voters. 

TRIF’s catalytic investments have allowed BIO5 to bring together world-class plant, animal and human bioscientists, engineers, physicians and computational researchers to develop bold solutions for complex challenges such as disease, hunger, water and food safety, and other environmental issues facing Arizona. BIO5 connects more than 300 researchers and almost 30 departments on campus. Our initiatives will continue to create impact on our citizens and provide a return on investment to our region and state in the following ways: 

• Fostering collaborative projects that address major challenges in the biosciences, biomedicine and biotechnology – and forge significant progress on novel treatments for asthma, cancer, valley fever, diabetes, sudden cardiac death, malnutrition, degenerative eye disorders, Alzheimer’s and other age-related brain diseases. 

• Strengthening and expanding translational research by recruiting the best and brightest faculty to Arizona and supporting projects that will advance the development of new medicines, devices, diagnostics and nutritional and therapeutic strategies. 

• Engaging and training future generations of scientists by maintaining successful outreach and internship programs to promote experiential learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) literacy in the state.

• Promoting an entrepreneurial culture in which scientists work across disciplines to accelerate commercial translation of research breakthroughs.

Q: What role does the BIO5 Institute play in overall economic development in Southern Arizona and what are some of the specific initiatives in which it can be involved? 

A: BIO5 brings together hundreds of researchers from across the UA and the state to work together with the goal of advancing the pace of scientific discovery and tackling our world’s critical biological challenges. BIO5 plays an important role in the workforce and economic development of our region. BIO5 develops unique, hands-on programs that prepare students to thrive in a rapidly changing world. BIO5 also provides training opportunities for more than 1,300 undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students each year through assistantships, student jobs, scholarships, grants and research experiences. 

Q: Who are some of the businesses, individuals, and organizations that can have the most significant impact in the BIO5 Institute’s objectives and how can they partner with BIO5? 

A: Because BIO5 has been successful as a collaborative, interdisciplinary hub, we know that the best ideas – and opportunities for those ideas to create impact – happen when people with different experience and perspectives come together and share insight, knowledge, data and resources. BIO5 thrives when we interface with community partners and supporters from across the spectrum of business, industry, government, nonprofits and the private sector willing to sit down at the table (or lab bench) with us and solve grand challenges. We are open to strategically partnering in every conceivable area – including cooperative research projects, large-scale team science grants, education initiatives, cutting-edge equipment and resources, and bringing faculty and other experts to our region who will help move the needle on issues that our communities and the world face. 

Q: Looking at the economic direction of the Southern Arizona region today, what is your ideal picture of the overall business environment 10 years from now and how can we get there? 

A: I would like Southern Arizona to be viewed as an exciting destination for bioscience companies, mixing an educated workforce with a supportive, collaborative business environment where the university, industry and private sector work together. The UA and institutional drivers like BIO5 within universities have the unique capacity to create strong momentum in economic AND workforce development.

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