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Research teams win IBB, Hamill awards

Rice, Texas Medical Center collaborators take on projects from macro to micro

From Rice News Staff Reports

Fortified foods, pediatric heart valves that grow with a patient and the effects of biochar on microbes are among the winners of awards presented by Rice University's Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB).

The Hamill Awards and IBB Medical Innovations Awards, which include seed grants, will be presented Nov. 29. The Hamill Foundation and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation funded the awards.

Three projects were chosen in the seventh year of the Hamill Awards, which fund collaborative research projects led by IBB faculty.

A team of four from Rice will look at how the addition of charcoal to an ecosystem, either intentionally or by fire, affects the coordinated behaviors of its living organisms. Caroline Masiello, assistant professor of Earth science; Jennifer Rudgers, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Jonathan Silberg, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology; and Kyriacos Zygourakis, the A.J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, hope to learn how biochar -- coal produced for carbon sequestration -- impacts communication between cells in microbial cultures.

Matthew Bennett, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, and Jeffrey Tabor, assistant professor of bioengineering, will examine the properties of multistrain gene circuits at the single-cell level. They plan to construct a synthetic multistrain genetic oscillator to examine how dynamic behaviors are coordinated across different cell types.

Michael Diehl, assistant professor of chemistry and bioengineering, and Amina Qutub, assistant professor of bioengineering, will study angiogenesis, the process by which capillaries branch off from blood vessels to distribute oxygen throughout the body. They hope to understand the signaling pathways that drive the formation of tubules.

Five teams won IBB Medical Innovations Awards, which are in their fifth year. The program funds new collaborations between Rice faculty and researchers within the Texas Medical Center.

Sibani Lisa Biswal, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Wah Chiu, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the National Center for Macromolecular Imaging, plan to improve the preparation of frozen, hydrated samples of viruses, cells and other biomacromolecular complexes for analysis via cryo-electron microscopy.

Kathleen Beckingham, professor of biochemistry and cell biology; Bruce Weisman, professor of chemistry; David Haviland, director of the flow cytometry core at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute; and Amy Hazen, program manager at the Center for Molecular Imaging, Institute for Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center, will evaluate carbon nanotube-based immunoprobes for flow cytometry, which is used to count and examine microscopic particles.

Laura Segatori, the T.N. Law Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, and Marco Sardiello, a Baylor College of Medicine assistant professor of molecular and human genetics, will study novel therapies for neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disorders, a group of diseases that includes Gaucher's and Tay-Sachs.

Jane Grande-Allen, associate professor of bioengineering; Daniel Harrington, faculty fellow of biochemistry and cell biology; and Henri Justino, associate director of cardiac catheterization laboratories and assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital, will test a novel stent-mounted valve for damaged pediatric hearts that can be made to grow with the patient.

Janet Braam, chair and professor of biochemistry and cell biology, and Kendal Hirschi, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition and human and molecular genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Nutrition Research Center, will study the prevention of disease through improved nutrient content of plant-based foods. They hope strategic changes in crop harvesting and storage methods based on plants' own circadian rhythms will produce "biofortified" food.