Faculty Awarded Grants for Health Center Collaborations

Three research teams involving engineering faculty members have received $100,000 in two-year start-up grants under a competitive UConn grant program aimed at nurturing interdisciplinary research collaborations among faculty at the Storrs, UConn Health Center and regional campuses.  Teams submit proposals for multidisciplinary projects and are judged on their long-term promise and a strong potential for attracting significant external funding after the seed money concludes.  Just six teams received funding, across the entire campus, in the 2012 competition.  The engineering-partner teams receiving funding are:

  • Dr. Bryan Huey, an associate professor in the Chemical, Materials & Biomolecular Engineering (CMBE) Department; Dr. Diane Burgess, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the School of Pharmacy; and Dr. Liisa Kuhn, an Associate Professor of Reconstructive Sciences in the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Skeletal Development at the UCHC.
  • Dr. Yong Wang, an associate professor in the CMBE Department, and Dr. Isaac Moss, M.D., who is also an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the UCHC.
  • Dr. Quing Zhu, a professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Dr. Kevin Claffey, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and a principal investigator in the Center for Vascular Biology at the UConn Health Center (UCHC).

Cancer is the focus of a project to be carried out by the team of Drs. Huey, Burgess and Kuhn. The team will develop a nanomedicine therapy targeting therapy-resistant cancer stem cells, and will implement an innovative multidisciplinary approach to select the optimal chemical building blocks of the system. For this project, they will seek to optimize the chemical and physical interactions between each component of the system while maintaining biological activity. Dr. Burgess brings expertise in interfacial chemistry and drug delivery/release, Dr. Huey is an expert in surface characterization, and Dr. Kuhn possesses expertise in stem cells and preclinical oncology product testing.

For their project, Drs. Wang and Moss will develop a treatment strategy to slow or reverse intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration – a major cause of severe back pain and disability in the U.S. – early in the disease process. They intend to develop a novel affinity hydrogel capable of delivering a sustained release of platelet derived growth factor (PDGF), which is critical to the repair of many musculoskeletal tissues. Drs. Wang and Moss hypothesize this therapy will slow and potentially reverse the IVD degenerative process.

Drs. Zhu and Claffey have developed advanced molecular techniques to clone antibodies extracted from lymph nodes located proximately to a breast tumor, which they believe are best suited for individualized and targeted cancer-fighting therapies.  To test their theory, they will collect the natural antibodies from female test animals, clone these antibodies and reinsert them at the tumor, and then image the tumor tissue using a deep tissue near infrared (NIR) imaging system developed by Dr. Zhu.  The NIR system enables physicians to quickly, non-invasively analyze the tumor tissue, thereby providing a sensitive tool for screening these antibodies in pre-clinical models of human breast cancer with significant throughput, precision and reduced animal expense.


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