Rice engineers receive Welch Foundation research grant

George Lu’s proposal involves the assembly of gas-filled protein nanostructures.

Headshots of Welch Foundation recipients

George Lu is among three researchers in the George R. Brown School of Engineering to have received grants from the Welch Foundation to further their research.

Lu, assistant professor of bioengineering and CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research; Gao, the Ted N. Law Assistant Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering (ChBE); and Yimo Han, assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering, each received a three-year, $240,000 grant.

Lu’s proposal involves the assembly of gas-filled protein nanostructures. He works with gas vesicles (GVs), a class of gas-filled protein nanostructures that evolved in photosynthetic microbes, which use them to float to the surface of water so they can maximize photosynthesis. The gas compartments of GVs possess material properties distinct from normal water-filled biological tissue.

Lu hopes to repurpose GVs for various biomedical applications, including using them as acoustic reporter genes to enable ultrasound imaging of gene expression. All potential applications involve noninvasive imaging and remotely controlling genetically engineered cells in deep tissue.

Lu earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego in 2014. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Mikhail Shapiro at the California Institute of Technology, before joining the Rice faculty in 2020.

The Houston-based Welch Foundation was founded in 1954, and is among the oldest and largest private funding sources for chemistry research. It is a non-profit organization named for the industrialist Robert Alonzo Welch which advances chemistry through research grants, departmental programs, endowed chairs, visiting lectureship, scholarships and other projects at educational institutions in Texas.