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Rice wins award to recruit cancer researcher

$2 million CPRIT grant aims to bring MIT researcher Omid Veiseh to Houston

By Jade Boyd
Rice News Staff

Rice University has won a $2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to recruit biomaterials researcher and entrepreneur Omid Veiseh to Rice's Department of Bioengineering.

The grant is one of 35 totaling nearly $80 million announced by the publicly funded CPRIT last month.

Omid Veiseh_webVeiseh, who just finished a postdoctoral research fellowship in the lab of MIT biomedical engineer Robert Langer, specializes in the development of biomaterials for drug delivery and tissue-engineering applications and is an inventor on 12 pending or awarded patents.

Veiseh said he plans to join Rice's bioengineering faculty in July 2017 and looks forward to establishing his laboratory in the BioScience Research Collaborative.

"I'm looking forward to collaborating with a number of different folks at the Texas Medical Center complex, including people from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Methodist, the UT Health Science Center at Houston and Texas Children's Hospital," Veiseh said. "Rice is a fantastic institution, and the Department of Bioengineering is highly ranked with world renowned faculty and outstanding students. Those things and the proximity to the Texas Medical Center were a very attractive combination."

Veiseh said he will spend the next year working at Sigilon Inc., a biomaterials startup he co-founded in Cambridge, Mass.

"We have a platform technology that allows us to modulate immune responses to implanted materials," he said. "There's a wide array of applications that we can tackle, from implantable devices to cell-based therapies and regenerative medicine. It's fairly early stage, and that is why I needed a year to focus on it before I start my own lab."

Veiseh said his laboratory will specialize in developing next-generation biomaterials for cancer, regenerative medicine and other applications.

"The goal is to develop technologies that can have a meaningful impact on human health," he said. "The focus will be on developing materials, and there will be a synthetic biology component. The materials will allow us to localize therapies to various parts of the body. They're carriers for drugs, but they can also carry imaging agents that are accessible by MRI, such as magnetic nanoparticles, or imaging agents that are detectable through fluorescence imaging."

He said one area of concentration will be on understanding the pathology of diseases such as cancer to identify targets that are reliable, prognostic indicators. "The engineering aspect will focus on facilitating interaction with those targets through the use of proteins, peptides, antibodies or small molecules," he said.

Prior to joining MIT in 2011, Veiseh earned a bachelor's degree in cell biology at Western Washington University and a dual Ph.D. in materials science and engineering and in nanotechnology from the University of Washington.

In late May, CPRIT awarded six research grants to support the recruitment of promising emerging cancer scientists to academic institutions in Texas. To date, CPRIT has awarded 1,033 grants totaling more than $1.57 billion. The agency was launched in 2009 after Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a 2007 bond issue committing $3 billion to the fight against cancer.