Graduate Training Grants Aim to Speed Biotech Innovations
May 18, 2007
In an effort to stimulate advancements in biotechnology and support promising young researchers from many fields of study, the University of California Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program has awarded more than a half million dollars in 11 new training grants to graduate students and their faculty mentors at UC Davis and five other UC campuses.
The $50,000-per-year Graduate Research and Education in Adaptive bioTechnology (GREAT) training grants are among the highest individual awards given for graduate education and training anywhere in the nation. They will fund biotechnology-related research into such areas as biomedical engineering, human therapeutics, neuroscience, stem-cell culture and biomolecular engineering. These research projects incorporate cross-disciplinary training that spans all fields of science, engineering, medicine and agriculture.
"This training-grant program is designed to provide the catalyst for rapid technological advancements in areas such as nanotechnology and biological materials modeling by providing a research environment that nurtures diverse fields of study," said Martina McGloughlin, director of the UC Davis-based UC Biotechnology Research and Education Program. "The student-faculty teams selected to receive the grants were chosen on the basis of their demonstrated ability to understand and solve problems that cross over diverse disciplines."
At UC Davis, grants were awarded to:
- Chemical engineering student Ileri Nazar, who works in the development of si-nanopores for external control of transport of biomolecules under the sponsorship of Professor Peter Stroeve; and
- Chemical engineering student Michael Plesha, who is developing a plant-based expression system for the efficient production of human therapeutics with Professor Karen McDonald.
The other training grants were awarded to:
- Biophysics student Viviana Risca, who is working on actin network mechanics from the bottom up with optical tweezers-based studies of actin filament structures under the direction of Professor Daniel Fletcher;
- Neuroscience student Lavi Secundo, who is developing neuroprosthesis control via cortical modulation of upper-limb muscle activity in the laboratory of Professor Jose Carmena;
- Psychology student Kate Wassum, who uses an implantable MEA biosensor for measuring brain neurotransmitter release in animal models of addictive behavior under the direction of Professor Nigel Maidment;
- Computer science student Nils Homer, who is finding analysis methods for cost-effective genomewide SNP association studies with Professor Stanley Nelson;
UC San Diego
- Bioengineering student David Brafman, who is researching arrayed cellular microenvironments for identifying the optimum conditions for proliferating and differentiation of human embryonic stem cells in Professor Shu Chien's laboratory;
UC San Francisco
- Chemical biology student Emily Crawford, who is developing a novel technology for global analysis of apoptotic caspase targets under sponsorship of Professor James Wells;
- Biophysics student Elizabeth Hesper Rego, who is researching ultra-high resolution light microscopy using nonlinear structured illumination with Professor Mats Gustafsson;
UC Santa Barbara
- Biomolecular engineering student Scott Wasko, who is exploring mimicry of whelk egg capsule biopolymers in the laboratory of Professor John Herbert Waite; and
- Biomolecular engineering student Lukmaan Bawazar, who is researching the interface of materials science and engineering focusing on directed laboratory evolution of bio-mineralization systems with Professor Daniel Morse.
The GREAT program, developed four years ago, supports the training of the brightest young University of California graduate students in theoretical and experimental research, students who are working at the nexus of the life sciences and the physical, chemical, engineering, mathematical and computational sciences. Nine UC campuses have now been awarded one or more of these prestigious systemwide grants.
Notable accomplishments of the program include those of Adam Seipel, formerly at UC Santa Cruz, who secured an appointment as a tenure-track assistant professor at Cornell immediately out of graduate school. He made headlines in August 2006 as a member of the group that characterized a gene in the neocortex that has changed rapidly during human evolution. This finding brings scientists a step closer toward understanding what sets humans apart from their closest cousins. Seipel noted that it had been very difficult to obtain support as a returning graduate student, and the GREAT program made it possible for him to undertake a novel project and complete graduate school in record time.
Another milestone was achieved in November 2006 when the HYPERCEST biosensor was invented by GREAT student Tom Lowery in the laboratory of UC Berkeley Professor David Wemmer. This biosensor, which includes xenon as the signal source in a specially designed molecular cage, dramatically increases the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and will have extensive clinical application.
Five months later, in April 2007, a paper by Roy Wollman, who worked in Professor Jonathan Scholey's lab at UC Davis, was published in the journal Science. The paper reported Wollman's findings from his work using a full genome RNAi screen to demonstrate the unexpected complexity of cell division, which involves some 200 genes (150 previously unknown). This research provides insight into potential targets for cancer therapeutics.
Return to the previous page