Amid the flashing lights of photographers and television cameras, scientific leaders and politicians cut the royal blue ribbon during the inauguration ceremony to officially open the newest laboratory at the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education (CICESE) in Ensenada, Baja California, Sept. 17. The event also marked the Center’s 40th anniversary in the region.
The Center’s Division of Biomedical Development is a two-story building with majestic views of the Pacific Ocean that has been outfitted with several instruments from Life Technologies, including an Ion Proton®, Ion PGM™, an Attune® Acoustic Focusing Cytometer, an EVOS® cell imaging station, and other ancillary equipment that will be used to accelerate genomic studies in marine biology.
“The main purpose of the Division of Biomedical Development is to develop and patent new therapeutics that can then be commercialized by big pharmaceutical companies,” Dr. Federico Graef Ziehl, general director of CICESE, said during a press conference that included the governor of Baja California, Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan. “This effort will benefit CICESE, the region and the Mexican people. We expect to see these new products on shelves within five years.”
The Division’s research team, led by Dr. Alexei Licea Navarro, director of Experimental and Applied Biology, has already made breakthroughs in this area through studies of a shark species native to the Baja California region. Antibodies isolated and synthesized from the animals are now the basis for a drug that, when injected or applied to the eye in droplets, has been found to slow the progression of glaucoma in humans.
His lab also has several ongoing research projects of the deadly toxin produced by cone snails found in the ocean. His team is working to synthesize the toxin for potential use as pain killers and other uses. Navarro now wants to use the Ion Torrent platform to expand his research in these and other areas.
“Very little is known about other species of shark, so we want to expand our library to see if other species potentially have the genetic profile we’re looking for so we can leverage their antibodies for medicinal purposes,” Navarro said. “And for that, we need to sequence all or part of their DNA.”
The research team also plans to use the Ion PGM for metagenomic studies. The lab will soon embark on a project for PEMEX, Mexico’s leading gasoline producer, and sequence the microbial environment of two regions in the Gulf of Mexico where the firm is interested in drilling for crude oil. The work will provide critical data of the environment for comparison should an accidental oil spill occur in the future.
The EVOS microscope, Navarro says, will enable further studies of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses that cause human diseases in an area of the lab that’s made up of interconnected, specially pressurized rooms – each representing an increasingly higher level of security than the last. The new Division will also provide sequencing services on cancer samples as part of the region’s growing cancer research efforts.
“This is a very exciting time for us and CICESE,” Navarro said. “It represents the start of a new phase in which I believe many new discoveries will be made to benefit science, the region and ultimately humanity.”