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Engineering faculty members among participants in Wisconsin Institute for Discovery seed grants

College of Engineering researchers will play a key role in a number of recently funded Wisconsin Institute for Discovery seed grant research projects.

Funded by major gifts from UW-Madison alumni John and Tashia Morgridge, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), and the state of Wisconsin, the $150 million Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Building is intended to be the hub of an innovative public-private initiative for interdisciplinary research.

Launched last spring by the Morgridges and WARF, the UW-Madison patenting and licensing organization, a seed grant initiative is providing $3 million in research funding. The effort is intended to jump-start research in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and stimulate interest in the new institutes to inspire multidisciplinary teams of researchers to help advance the fundamental understanding of human biology, to provide the foundation for tools and approaches to address some of the challenging problems facing human health and welfare.

Paul S. Peercy

Paul S. Peercy (large image)

Researchers initially submitted more than 220 letters of intent; a faculty committee reviewed and rated those letters of intent based on scientific merit and alignment with the institute mission and objectives. The committee selected 35 letters of intent for full proposals, rated and reviewed by another faculty committee. Ultimately, College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy, chair of the seed grant selection process, and Marsha Selzer, interim director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, along with a committee of UW-Madison associate deans selected, eight proposals to receive seed grants. College of Engineering faculty members are participants in five of the eight proposals:

  • Micro-optical systems inspired by biology
John G. White

John G. White (large image)

David J. Beebe

David J. Beebe (large image)

Hongrui  Jiang

Hongrui Jiang (large image)

    Taking its cue from the lenses found in mammalian eyes and the compound eyes of insects, an eight-member team of electrical engineers, biomedical engineers, surgeons, ophthalmology researchers and optics experts will use micro-engineering techniques to create low-cost and biologically friendly micro-lenses with performance superior to their natural counterparts. Led by Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Hongrui Jiang, the team also will explore applications of the micro-lenses in medical tools such as fiber endoscopes, in advanced microscopy methods such as laser-scanning microscopy, and in eye surgery. Biomedical Engineering Professors David Beebe and John White are among the project co-investigators.

  • Healing chronic wounds
Paul F. Nealey

Paul F. Nealey (large image)

Nicholas L. Abbott

Nicholas L. Abbott (large image)

Christopher  Murphy

Christopher Murphy (large image)

    School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Engineering Professor Christopher Murphy will lead a seven-member team of chemists, biologists, engineers and surgeons. The team, which includes John T. and Magdalen L. Sobota Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Nicholas Abbott and Smith-Bascom Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Paul Nealey, will address chronic, hard-to-treat wounds, such as diabetic patients’ foot ulcers and the pressure sores people with limited mobility experience. Differing radically from previous approaches, the scientists’ proposed strategy involves “engineering” the wound bed to promote favorable behaviors by cells that accelerate healing and lead to quicker patient recovery times.

  • Screening for drugs that affect receptors on “excitable” cells
Justin  Williams

Justin Williams (large image)

Max G. Lagally

Max G. Lagally (large image)

Robert H. Blick

Robert H. Blick (large image)

    A seven-member team of chemists, biologists, engineers and materials scientists will develop a unique system for identifying compounds that can regulate receptors found on “excitable” cells, such as neurons. These receptors, known as ligand-gated ion channels, have become important targets in the quest to develop new drugs, but are notoriously difficult to study with established drug screening techniques. Led by anesthesiology professor Robert A. Pearce, the researchers propose to use atomic force microscopy as the core of a system that will assess the effects of drugs on the receptors under fleeting conditions that represent their natural activation state. Lynn H. Matthias Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Robert Blick, Erwin W. Mueller and Bascom Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Max Lagally, and Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Justin Williams are among the project co-investigators.

Sean P. Palecek

Sean P. Palecek (large image)

  • Large-scale production of human embryonic stem cells

    Chemical and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Sean Palecek will join principal investigator Derek Hei, a bio-manufacturing expert in the UW-Madison Waisman Center, and Timothy Kamp, a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) scientist in the School of Medicine and Public Health, in developing a precision-controlled bioreactor system for producing large batches of hESC in culture that consistently meet strict requirements for quality. Many experts believe the current lack of such a system is a major obstacle in the path to using hESC in clinical applications, such as transplantation, as well as for non-clinical uses, such as drug toxicity testing. The team also will attempt to produce heart cells, known as cardiomyocytes, on a large scale from hESC.

  • New scientific tools for drug discovery and their use in education
Kristyn S. Masters

Kristyn S. Masters (large image)

    Biomedical Engineering Professor David Beebe and Assistant Professors Kristyn Masters and Robert Jeraj (also School of Medicine and Public Health) are part of a team of chemists, biologists, physicists and engineers that will create an advanced, micro-scale system for identifying compounds that can control migrating cells involved in chronic inflammatory disorders, such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Led by pediatrics professor Anna Huttenlocher, the team then will test the anti-inflammatory effects of these potential new drugs in a novel zebrafish animal model. With help from a UW-Madison education researcher and a teacher from Madison’s West High School, the group also will develop zebrafish into a tool for teaching students about the biology of inflammation and the process of drug discovery.

Scheduled for completion in 2010, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Building is planned for the 1300 block of University Avenue and will serve as the nucleus of the two institutes: the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the private Morgridge Institute for Research.

The state-of-the-art facility is intended not only to bring together scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines, but also to serve as a venue for the arts and humanities, education and outreach, and study of the interdisciplinary research process itself.