The University of Arizona

Dr. Fernando Martinez Appointed Director of the BIO5 Institute

By Johnny Cruz, November 2, 2009

Martinez is one of the most highly regarded researchers worldwide in childhood lung diseases.

Dr. Fernando Martinez
Dr. Fernando Martinez

One of the most highly regarded researchers worldwide in childhood lung diseases, Dr. Fernando Martinez, has accepted the position of director for the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona.

Martinez is the Swift-McNear Professor of Pediatrics at the UA, the director of the UA College of Medicine's Arizona Respiratory Center, a longtime BIO5 faculty member and most recently served as interim director of the BIO5 Institute.

He and former BIO5 director Vicki Chandler previously served together as interim co-directors, and he has been a member of the BIO5 faculty advisory committee for the past five years. Martinez began his affiliation with the UA in 1984.

"It is my honor to lead the BIO5 Institute in what I am certain will be a new phase of continued success," Martinez said. "The BIO5 Institute is privileged to serve the University and the people of Arizona during this time of transformation. Our goals are simple - BIO5's researchers work to improve the quality of life for all people, with better food and better medicine, so we may all enjoy better health."

"Dr. Martinez, one of the UA's star faculty members, has been involved with BIO5 since its inception and is deeply committed to its success. His stint as Interim Director has prepared him and his leadership team to face new challenges with insight and ingenuity," said Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development. "I am thrilled that he has agreed to take on the permanent directorship, with a goal of enhancing collaboration among investigators across the University and with the private sector for the public good."

The BIO5 Institute plays a vital role in regional and Arizona's bioscience economic and workforce development plans. BIO5 faculty members conduct cutting-edge interdisciplinary biological research and the Institute facilitates interactions among faculty and industry. BIO5 also advances educational programs at the K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels to build the next generation of scientists.

"BIO5's emphasis on translating life sciences research into tangible benefits for humanity is bolstered by the excellent scholarship, intense collaboration and passionate teaching by our world-renowned faculty," Martinez said. "Their innovations are leading to the successful recruitment of additional outstanding faculty, attracting talented graduate students and helping create high-quality jobs in our growing biotechnology and biomedicine industry here in Southern Arizona."

Martinez also emphasized BIO5's outreach mission, which includes helping train school teachers in modern biology and exposing their students to the latest advances in scientific discovery.

Asthma is the most prevalent chronic childhood illness. Viral respiratory illnesses plague infants, and much of the chronic pulmonary dysfunction that occurs in adults has its origins in these childhood illnesses. Martinez combines pediatric clinical training with epidemiology, genetic, physiologic and immunobiologic approaches to understanding these diseases.

He has published 160 original research papers, many in collaboration with investigators from around the world, authored 20 book chapters and co-edited two books. He is a frequent presenter at national and international meetings, and was recently invited to give the J. Amberson Lecture at the international meeting of the American Thoracic Society in 2008. This is the premier honor bestowed by this national society, which recognizes the significant contributions of the invitee to advancing understanding of pulmonary diseases.

Some of Martinez's studies in the mid-1990s started a process that has given him a major policy voice with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. One of his publications essentially changed the nature of funding for epidemiologic research at the NHLBI.

Martinez has expanded his basic research program to address the complex relation of genetic variation to human disease. For this purpose, he closely collaborates with two major interdisciplinary training programs at the UA, the Human Genes and Environment Research and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. He also collaborates with researchers at the Arizona Genomics Institute and Arizona Research Laboratories.

He and his colleagues at the Arizona Respiratory Center also have begun to elucidate the interactions between gene variants and environmental factors that provide critical influences on asthma development.

For this purpose, members of the center are currently studying exposure to germs in homes of asthma patients in collaboration with researchers at the department of soil, water and environmental science; studying exposure to desert molds with investigators in the division of plant pathology and microbiology; and studying exposure to arsenic in water with experts from the UA College of Pharmacy and the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Martinez is the principal investigator on the UA portion of the NIH's National Children's Study, a major effort to investigate the interaction of genes and the environment on children's health.

The UA's department of pediatrics was recently awarded a six-year contract to participate in the study, which includes study locations in Pinal and Apache counties and a Maricopa County option. These location studies are led by an interdisciplinary team of investigators from the UA Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Medicine and Public Health.