BioEngineering Graduate Program Transformative Grants
Buzz on Biotechnology
Childrenâ€™s Healthcare of Atlanta
Collaborative Seed Grants
PARKER H. PETIT INSTITUTE FOR
BIOENGINEERING & BIOSCIENCE
TRANSLATION NSF Career Awards
GAP Seminar Series
Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium
Biotechnology & International Affairs
$19.5M for Malaria Research
Emory University Partnership
2012 ANNUAL REPORT
Innovative scientific research in the 21st Century requires three critical factors: the ability to form and deploy teams having diverse skill sets, the availability of state-of-the-art facilities, and the engagement of the worldâ€™s brightest minds to understand and solve complex research problems. The Petit Institute, through its faculty, trainees and partners is fortunate to possess all of these essential ingredients. There are now over 130 faculty and nearly 1,000 students who make up the Petit Institute community. The Petit Institute with its unique environment and entrepreneurial spirit facilitates collisions between engineers, scientists and clinicians from a wide variety of disciplines to create new collaborative opportunities. Out of these collisions, true interdisciplinary activities and innovations emerge. As a technology-driven research institute, it is also our mission to help drive the translation of new research discoveries into applications that benefit human health and society. Our partnerships are a core ingredient of the success of the Petit Institute. In 2012, we, as a community, have continued to build and expand key relationships with local, national and international partners,including Emory and Childrenâ€™s Healthcare of Atlanta. The Petit Institute was the initial nucleation point for biotechnology efforts on campus and continues to serve as the heart of the Georgia Tech bio-community. As you will read throughout this annual report, it also serves as a bridge to industry and education partners throughout not only the Atlanta area, but the nation and the world. Since 1995, Georgia Tech has invested over $200 million in biotechnology research space, creating a biotechnology complex with over 1 million square feet of bioengineering and bioscience research facilities. In 2014, we will see the bio-community expand with the addition of another building and new researchers who believe in our mission. We look forward to continuing to strengthen and build the Georgia Tech bio-community as we head into a bright future.
PETIT Robert E. Guldberg, Ph.D. Executive Director, Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience Professor, George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
Partnerships ................................................... 4-7 Global Footprint ............................................ 8-11
Excellence in Research ............................... 12-17 & Scholarship
Innovation, Entrepreneurship ...................... 18-21 & Public Service Education & Training ................................... 22-25 Community Members .................................. 26-27 Research ...................................................... 28-47 Content adapted or written by the following authors Layne Cameron 42 Josie Giles 13, 34 Sarah Gonzales 11 Liz Klipp 4, 32, 42 Holly Korschun 4 Jason Maderer 19, 34, 45, 47 Megan McDevitt 6, 9, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 35 Colly Mitchell 8, 20, 24 Amelia Pavlik 9, 18
Adrianne Proeller 12, 13, 27 Abby Robinson 4, 13, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44 David Terraso 16, 39 John Toon 6, 7, 16, 22, 32, 33, 37, 45, 46 Sue Winters 20 Ben Wright 10 Photography- Rob Felt, Gary Meek Parker Smith
Partnerships - Building Strength through Strateg Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Georgia Tech Form a $20 Million Alliance to Advance Technological Solutions in Pediatric Health Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia Institute of Technology have announced a $20 million joint investment, strengthening their research commitment to developing technological solutions for improving children’s health. The expanded collaboration combines the proficiencies of both organizations with a common vision – to become the global leader in pediatric technologies. “What brings us together is changing the lives of the kids. The children of Georgia and throughout the country deserve the best care we can provide,” said Children’s President and CEO Donna Hyland. “At Children’s, our mission is to make kids better today and healthier tomorrow. We can do so much more with a strong partnership with Georgia Tech. Our $20 million alliance makes it clear just how committed both parties are to helping kids and provides an extraordinary opportunity for others who care about kids to join us.” Both organizations will operate under guiding principles that include enhancing societal and economic impact by transforming pediatrics, strengthening collaborative partnerships and creating opportunities. “This initiative also builds on our existing partnerships with other medical education leaders in the state and represents another example of how we are strategically fostering alliances that will help improve the human condition,” said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. “Not only will this collaboration improve the lives of children, it will also create new technologies that will lead to new products, new companies and more jobs for Georgia.” The enhanced alliance will support current researchers and recruit new researchers who will conduct fundamental and translational research. The problem-solving partnership will be guided by a joint Children’s-Georgia Tech strategic plan designed to define a balanced portfolio of work with near-term impact and “game changing” focus. Georgia Tech researchers will work in close collaboration with Children’s clinicians to develop the best possible technologies for advancing children’s health and delivering pediatric services in leading-edge research areas from nanomedicine and regenerative medicine to innovative approaches for health care delivery. The alliance is being initiated by a $10 million investment from Children’s, which will be matched by planned investment from Georgia Tech, culminating in a $20 million commitment to research focusing on pediatric technology and fundamental and translational research. The enhanced collaboration will include participation by existing Children’s research centers and faculty and researchers from academic and research units throughout Georgia Tech. Since 2007, Georgia Tech and Children’s have collaborated on more than 130 pediatric research projects. These efforts will continue to take place at both Georgia Tech and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta research facilities.
FDA Grant Launches Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has awarded the Georgia Institute of Technology, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University and Saint Joseph’s Translational Research Institute (SJTRI) a two-year, $1.8 million grant to foster the development of medical devices focused on the special needs of children. The award will launch the new Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, which will provide assistance with engineering design, prototype development, pre-clinical and clinical studies and commercialization for novel pediatric medical devices. Historically, devices designed for adults have been used in children. However, differences in body size and immune system responses between adults and children, and the lack of appropriate models to assess how a device might function in a growing child, can result in poor device performance and responses that are less than optimal. The consortium will try to reduce these barriers by creating a product development pathway that will provide support for the commercialization of devices.
gic Partners Partnering with Industry - New Bio-Commercialization Team In 2011-2012, Georgia Tech invested in several key industry support positions and created a life science (LS) commercialization team. The purpose of the team is to enable Georgia Tech’s goal to significantly increase industry engagement and commercialization of life science-related technologies. Key objectives of the team are to define and pursue grand challenges presented by industry, foster early engagement of industry in transformative research, and accelerate the maturation and transition of technology to the marketplace. Cynthia L. Sundell, Ph.D. Industry Business Development Manager for the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience Sundell has extensive experience in pharmaceutical R&D and executive management. She was formerly VP of pharmacology for AtheroGenics, Inc, a Georgia-based pharmaceutical company, and most recently, V.P. of Drug Development for Cerenis Therapeutics, in Toulouse France. Sundell is responsible for industry relations and manages the Bio Industry Partners Program. Neil Beals, M.S., M.B.A. Executive Commercialization Officer for the Life Sciences Beals has extensive experience in the medical device industry. He was formerly the V.P. of Biologics Marketing for Medtronic Spine & Biologics in Memphis, Tennessee and Group Director of Marketing for Total Hip Systems for Smith & Nephew Orthopedics, Memphis, Tennessee. Beals serves faculty and researchers in the life sciences across the Institute in working with industry, engaging in translational research, identifying technologies that might be commercially valuable and assisting in finding the commercialization pathway for technologies. Nina Sawczuk, M.S., M.B.A. Director of the Georgia Tech / Emory - Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Program Sawczuk has extensive entrepreneurial experience. She was co-founder, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Zygogen, LLC, a biotechnology company based in Atlanta, Georgia and a leader in zebrafish screening technology. Most recently she was Director of Startup Services and General Manager of the Advance Technology Development Center (ATDC), a state-funded high-technology incubator. Sawczuk’s responsibilities include directing the Coulter Translational Research program that promotes, develops and realizes the clinical potential of translational research.
Emory, GT, UGA Partnership Gets $19.5M for Malaria Research The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year contract of up to $19.4 million, depending on contract options exercised, to establish the Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC). The consortium includes researchers at Emory University, with partners at the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia (UGA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University will administer the contract. The MaHPIC team will use the comprehensive research approach of systems biology to study and catalog in molecular detail how malaria parasites interact with their human and animal hosts. This knowledge will be fundamental to developing and evaluating new diagnostic tools, antimalarial drugs and vaccines for different types of malaria. The project will integrate data generated by malaria research, functional genomics, proteomics, lipidomics and metabolomics cores via informatics and computational modeling cores. MaHPIC combines Emory investigators’ interdisciplinary experience in malaria research, metabolomics, lipidomics and human and non-human primate immunology and pathogenesis with UGA’s expertise in pathogen bioinformatics and large database systems, and Georgia Tech’s experience in mathematical modeling and systems biology. The CDC will provide support in proteomics and malaria research, including nonhuman primate and vector/mosquito infections. Petit Institute faculty include Greg Gibson, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center of Integrative Genomics, will be the director of the functional genomics core. Eberhard Voit, Ph.D., professor and David D. Flanagan Chair in biological systems, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, and cofounder of the Integrative BioSystems Institute, will be the director of the computational modeling core. Mark Styczynski, Ph.D., assistant professor in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, will serve as deputy director of the computational modeling core.
Partnerships Emory/Georgia Tech Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center Awards 11 Collaborative Seed Grants The Emory/Georgia Tech Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center recently awarded 11 seed grants, totalling $630,000, for promising new research in regenerative medicine. The seed grants focus on how the body—including bone, muscle, nerves, blood vessels and tissues—can harness its own potential to heal or regenerate following trauma or disease. “We looked for projects along the innovation spectrum, including early-stage projects for which the potential payoffs justified taking the risk and projects supported by preliminary data that were at an advanced preclinical or early clinical stage,” said Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center Co-Director Robert Guldberg, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor at Georgia Tech. Guldberg is also executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech. Twenty-eight seed grant proposals from across the Georgia Tech and Emory University campuses were submitted and those with the strongest potential for impacting the field of regenerative medicine were selected for funding. “We are very excited that the funded proposals will initiate new partnerships among regenerative medicine researchers at institutions across Atlanta,” said Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center Co-Director W. Robert Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., the Marcus Chair in Vascular Medicine and Director of the Division of Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine. Taylor is also a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The collaborative regenerative medicine initiative at Georgia Tech and Emory University began in 1998 with the establishment of the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Engineering of Living Tissues (GTEC), a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. Since then, more than 15 technologies have been licensed, 13 startup companies have been formed and three clinical trials are under way. Today, more than 40 researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory University are working together as members of the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center, which launched in 2011, to develop integrated technologies and therapies that harness the body’s own cells and repair mechanisms to heal itself. An interdisciplinary team of stem cell biologists, stem cell engineers and a surgeon from Georgia Tech, Emory University and Morehouse College received one of the $50,000 seed grants. The team plans to improve the quality of stem cells derived from the bone marrow of individuals with critical limb ischemia so that they can be used as a cellular therapy to prevent amputation in this patient population. Critical limb ischemia—a severe blockage in the arteries of the lower extremities that reduces blood flow—affects more than 500,000 people annually and can cause pain, tissue loss and lead to amputation. “Mesenchymal stem cells derived from the bone marrow of healthy individuals have been shown to support new blood vessel growth and help re-establish blood flow to an affected area, but the quality of mesenchymal stem cells in individuals with critical limb ischemia is known to be poor because of the typical patient’s age and medical condition,” said Luke Brewster, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Emory University. To overcome this challenge, the research team plans to develop techniques for rejuvenating mesenchymal stem cells cultured from amputated ischemic patient limbs in a novel manner that will enhance cell expansion and reduce the inflammatory response. In addition to Brewster, the research team also includes Todd McDevitt, an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University; Ian Copland, an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University; and Alex Peister, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Morehouse College. Julie Champion, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, received a $50,000 seed grant to create an innovative biomaterial capable of suppressing immune activity in the body. The material, which is made from engineered regulatory T-cell proteins, will operate through direct contact with immune cells. The success of many regenerative medicine therapies is limited because the introduction of foreign biomaterials, cells or tissues into the body causes an inflammatory response. According to Champion, the new material she is developing could be incorporated into regenerative biomaterials directly, combined with cell or tissue therapies, or used as pre-treatments prior to regenerative therapy to suppress immune activity. “This project demonstrates a new biomaterials platform that will interact directly with the immune system in both a physical and biological manner and could lead to innovative immune therapies for injured or sick patients that require regenerative medicine to heal and restore function,” said Champion. A committee of investigators from Georgia Tech, Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the University of Georgia awarded the grants that spanned basic science and translational research to researchers from a broad range of disciplines including engineering, medicine and biology. “The seed grants also allow the unique blend of engineers, scientists and clinicians at Georgia Tech and Emory University who have a successful history of collaboration in regenerative engineering and medicine to help train the next generation of leaders in this rapidly growing, interdisciplinary field,” said Guldberg. 6
Research Partnership Aims to Enhance Personalized Medicine Capabilities An interdisciplinary team from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Allen Institute for Brain Science was awarded a $4.3 million National Institutes of Health grant. Led by Edward Boyden (associate professor, Media Lab and McGovern Institute, MIT), Hongkui Zeng (senior director, research science, Allen Institute for Brain Science), and Craig Forest (assistant professor, Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech), the team will undertake a five-year effort (2012-2017) to develop new precision robotics, as well as relevant methods of use, that will enable biologists and clinicians to automatically assess the gene expression profile, shape and electrical properties of individual cells embedded in intact tissues such as the brain. By enabling the automated characterization of cells in complex organ systems, the technology will empower scientists across biology to map the cell types present in organ systems (e.g., brain circuits) in disease states, enabling new mechanistic understandings of disease and enabling new molecular drug targets to be identified. These robotic tools will also enable new kinds of biopsy analysis and diagnostics, helping empower personalized medicine in areas ranging from epilepsy to cancer, to utilize information about cellular diversity in disease states to improve patient care.
The Georgia Institute of Technology has become the newest node in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network Georgia Tech faculty members and graduate students who have a research interest in the physics of living systems will have the opportunity to interact with national and international peers and collectively help define the field’s research agenda. In the physics of living systems field, researchers explore the most fundamental physical processes that living systems use to perform their functions in dynamic and diverse environments. Georgia Tech will receive $1.2 million from the NSF over the next five years to support its network activities. “We are very excited that graduate students at Georgia Tech will be able to easily interact with other scientists in the field, share training strategies and locate potential research collaborations that could influence the physics of living systems field in the future,” said Daniel Goldman, Ph.D., a principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics. Additional principal investigators contributing to the network include Georgia Tech School of Physics assistant professors Jennifer Curtis , Ph.D., and Harold Kim, Ph.D.; School of Biology associate professor Joshua Weitz, Ph.D., and assistant professor David Hu, Ph.D., who holds a joint appointment in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Biology. School of Physics professor Kurt Wiesenfeld, Ph.D., will serve as a senior adviser for the network. Georgia Tech will join 11 U.S. institutions and organizations from Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom in the network, which is also an NSF Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) pilot project. SAVI is an innovative concept designed to foster interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe to solve important societal challenges. Through this program, Georgia Tech faculty members and graduate students will have the opportunity to visit peers at other research institutions in the network, which will expand their perspectives on how to approach difficult research topics and create collaborative ties between groups at the various sites. To further engage with other researchers in the network, Georgia Tech will host an annual meeting with network members from the other institutions and participate in monthly webinars. In addition, graduate students participating in the network will gain access to career opportunities that they might not have had otherwise.
David Hu and Harold Kim (top row), Jennifer Curtis and Daniel Goldman, (middle row) and Kurt Wiesenfeld, and Joshua Weitz.
At Georgia Tech, researchers in this field seek to understand how physics can inform questions of structure, function and dynamics in biological systems. They are also studying fundamental physics questions posed by biological systems. At the heart of the effort is a philosophy that many biological systems cannot be understood without study of their interaction with the environment. “Recognition by the NSF of our growing program in biophysics is especially welcome,” said Paul Houston, dean of the Georgia Tech College of Sciences. “Being a node in the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network will allow Georgia Tech to connect our graduate student and faculty research to that of an international group of scientists studying how physics can enhance our understanding of biology.” 7
Global Footprint -The Petit Institute’s Leadership Two Georgia Tech Faculty Help to Define Emerging U.S. Stem Cell Engineering Field through International R&D Study Robert M. Nerem, Ph.D., professor in mechanical engineering and Todd C. McDevitt, Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell Engineering Center at Georgia Tech, were invited by the lead sponsor, Semahat S. Demir Ph.D. of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to take part in an international assessment of the stem cell engineering field. Nerem lead the panel and the findings of this study resulted in recommendations to the NSF and other funding agencies on future research directions and investments, recommendations on global initiatives with international partners and public workshops. The study, which was conducted by the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC), aims to assess the current status and trends of stem cell engineering and compare U.S. research and development programs with those abroad. In addition to the NSF, the study is co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “Tech is fortunate to have two out of the six experts on this panel,” Nerem said. “It conveys Georgia Tech’s nascent leadership in this relatively new and rapidly growing field and it is a great opportunity to provide input and leadership to our funding agencies and help our government understand where best to invest.” President Obama, Congress and numerous states have recognized the value of stem cell research. Knowledge of research activities abroad will help to formulate and prioritize research directions to support President Obama’s executive order for expanding stem cell research so that it has the greatest potential for clinical and commercial applications. Dozens of companies have recently entered the stem cell engineering field in search of clinical and commercial applications. There is clear impetus for the U.S. to support stem cell research and continue its leadership in the basic sciences for the betterment of humankind. A Congressional Research Service report on stem cell research, which reviewed the political, moral and ethical issues of the subject, indicated the strengthening interest and economic commitment for stem cell research in the U.S. and the rest of the world. This study used WTEC’s methodology and an expert panel of six to conduct site visits to overseas laboratories where work in stem cell engineering is done. The panelists began their study in November, when they traveled to China and Japan, and then continue their evaluations throughout Europe. These visits, combined with the panel’s own research experiences and assessments, will help shape a report. Like the previous WTEC studies on the tissue engineering and nanotechnology fields, this effort will act as a guide for U.S. research investments in this emerging field and will help identify key issues of critical importance to program officers. “This is an excellent opportunity to learn what other countries are doing and benchmark against other programs in order to position the U.S. to become leaders in stem cell research and development,” said McDevitt, who is also an associate professor in the Wallace H. Counter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Manufacturing, clinical trials and commercializing stem cell-based products, if done strategically, is something that could boost our nation’s economy.” In addition to China and Japan, the scientists traveled to Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. In addition to Nerem and McDevitt, other panelists include Jeanne Loring, Ph.D., The Scripps Institute; Sean Palecek, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin; David Schaffer, Ph.D., University California at Berkeley; and Peter Zandstra, Ph.D., University of Toronto. WTEC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) research institute, which is a spin-off of Loyola University Maryland. Since 1989, WTEC has provided such assessment studies in more than 60 fields of R&D under peer-reviewed grants from NSF.
p Extends Internationally International Workshop on Ocean Viral Dynamics Joshua Weitz, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Biology, organized the first of three meetings of an international working group on Ocean Viral Dynamics supported by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) in Knoxville, TN. Weitz is co-organizing the working group with Steve Wilhelm, an environmental microbiologist from the University of TennesseeKnoxville. Viruses of microbes are key players in affecting ecosystem health, just as human viruses are key players in affecting human health. The goal of this working group is to quantify viral effects on the biogeochemical dynamics of carbon and other key nutrients in the oceans. The working group includes viral ecologists, microbiologists, theoretical biologists and mathematicians from the USA, Canada, Denmark and Norway.
A Summer Teaching Monks Neuroscience in India Some spend their summers doing research abroad or enjoying family time at the beach — Lena Ting, Ph.D., faculty member in biomedical engineering, spends hers debating basic principles of neuroscience with Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns in India. Since 2008, Ting has participated in the Tibet Science Initiative that aims to educate a cohort of monks and nuns on the basics of math, biology, neuroscience and physics. “Many of the participants enter the monastery at age nine and only learn Buddhist philosophy,” said Ting, an associate professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. “But in neuroscience, my area, we challenge a lot of that philosophy.” Ting became involved with the program in fall of 2008. Since then, she has volunteered to spend much of her academic years planning lectures for the 60 hours the team spends teaching program participants over two weeks each summer. One of the challenges Ting has faced is that these students have centuries-old explanations for things such as pain and negative emotions — explanations that don’t necessarily agree with the explanations that modern scientists, such as Ting, have to offer. “This leads to the most interesting interactions, because who is to say who is right and who is wrong,” she added. “Both sides offer valid points.”
Predicting and Preventing the Occurrences of Cardiovascular Disease in HIV Patients in Africa It’s not easy battling HIV on two fronts, let alone on two continents, but that’s exactly what Manu Platt, Ph.D an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and Rudy Gleason, Ph.D., assistant professor from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, is doing. If all goes according to plan the Georgia Tech biomedical engineering professor’s cutting-edge research will give doctors the ability to predict, treat, and prevent the occurrence of cardiovascular disease in HIV patients while he also develops a low-cost diagnostic tool that could help monitor patient success with treatment to help stem the spread of HIV in Africa. At the time not much was known about the connection between HIV and cardiovascular disease; although it was clear that HIV patients were at much higher risk of suffering cardiovascular events than the general population. The risk was even higher for children born with HIV, something that is far too common in countries like South Africa where 10-15% of the population is HIV positive. Platt began his foray into HIV research as a first-year professor in 2009 when he answered a call for new researchers that was jointly sponsored by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the International AIDS Society (IAS). The difficulty is that there is limited access to HIV samples within the United States, and that’s where the collaboration with Dr. Denise Evans in South Africa comes in. The duo met at the IAS conference in Cape Town and instantly realized that their areas of research dovetailed very nicely. Evans works out of the Helen Joseph Clinic in Johannesburg that sees over 400 HIV positive patients per day. These patients have agreed to donate their for research purposes and get reimbursed for travel while awaiting their chance to see the doctor. Knowing what enzymes are tied to cardiovascular events in HIV negative patients, Platt and Gleason travelled to South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand last fall and ran tests on samples drawn from patients at the Helen Joseph Clinic in order to determine if those markers were higher than in the general population. Platt and Gleason will continue analyzing their results over the next few months while they also work with their other collaborator, Roy Sutliff, M.D., Ph.D., from the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pulmonology, who specializes in mouse models which have been instrumental in the group’s cardiovascular research. Once they complete their analysis of the results the trio should be able to guide other researchers and drug companies in developing new and more effective ways to treat cardiovascular disease in HIV patients.
Manu Platt, Ph.D.
GLOBAL FOOTPRINT Joint Ph.D. program between the Georgia Tech, Emory and Peking University, give students a global experience. Warren Gray
Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student
Meet Warren Gray. Gray is a fourth year biomedical engineering graduate student who has traveled to Italy, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Wales, Thailand, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, and South Korea. He has worked in industry, interned in medicine, aided in the teaching of Quantitative Engineering Physiology Laboratory and carried out research for multiple prestigious universities. Gray is also one of the first students to be involved in the joint PhD program between the Georgia Institute of Technology, Peking University, and Emory University. As a part of this new program, Grey was allowed to spend two years at the Georgia Institute of Technology, one year engaged in research at Beijing University, and is now spending his fourth year studying at Emory University.
Rudy Gleason, Ph.D.
Grey initially chose to attend the joint BME program at Georgia Tech because of his desire to study abroad. While other universities had great graduate programs, he felt that any international components were not as secure as the one at Georgia Tech. Grey sums up the most appealing aspect of studying abroad as, “It was important to have some sort of international component because we’re going to be working at a high level with other people and potentially other countries and the world is getting smaller.” While studying abroad in Beijing, Grey was involved in research in Ying Luo’s lab, where he worked on drug delivery with dendrimers to promote angiogenesis within the heart as a treatment following myocardial infarction. 11
Excellence in Scholarship & Research Nerem Heads National Academies Committee Robert M. Nerem, Ph.D. for the past year has been chairing a National Academies committee on “Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process.” This study is a follow up to the report issued in 1992 by the National Academies. Nerem’s committee is expected to publish its report in mid 2013. He was nominated to chair the committee as a leading active researcher, with deep experience in international and interdisciplinary research collaborations.
Regents Appoints Prausnitz as Regent’s Professor The University System of Georgia Board of Regents today appointed Petit Institute faculty member, Mark Prausnitz, Ph.D. as a Regents’ Professor. Prausnitz has received international acclaim for his research on biophysical methods of drug delivery, which employ microneedles, ultrasound, lasers, electric fields, heat, convective forces and other physical means to control the transport of drugs, proteins, genes and vaccines into and within the body. A Regents’ Professorship title represents the highest academic status bestowed by the University System of Georgia. It is meant to recognize a substantial, significant and ongoing record of scholarly achievement that has earned high national esteem over a sustained period.
Xia Named as GRA Eminent Scholar in Nanomedicine & Brock Family Chair Younan Xia, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the field of nanotechnology, recently joined Georgia Tech and the Petit Institute as the first Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar in Nanomedicine. Xia is a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, with a joint appointment in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. His research focuses on nanocrystals - a novel class of materials with features smaller than 100 nm - as well as the development of innovative technologies enabled by nanocrystals. These technologies span the fields of molecular imaging, early cancer diagnosis, targeted drug delivery, biomaterials and catalysis.
Endowment Supports New Chair in Biomedical Engineering Ravi Bellamkonda, Ph.D., has been named the first Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan Chair in Biomedical Engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. The award, made possible by a generous $1.5 million gift from the Flanagans, was recently approved by the Georgia Board of Regents. The award recognizes Bellamkonda’s scholarship and thought leadership in regenerative medicine, nanotechnology and cancer research, and will support his active research program.
Levine Appointed to an Institute of Medicine Committee Aaron Levine, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Public Policy, has been appointed to an Institute of Medicine Committee that is tasked with evaluating the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Specifically, the committee will assess CIRM’s programs, operations, strategies, and performance since its inception in 2005. The committee held its first meeting in October 2011 and will hold four additional meetings in 2012 before producing a final report near the end of the year. The next two committee meetings will take place in California, and the final two will be held at the National Academies building in Washington, D.C.
Barabino Selected as Biomedical Engineering Society President The Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) announced Gilda Barabino, Ph.D., as the organization’s next president. Barabino is the first underrepresented minority and second woman to be elected President of BMES since it was established in 1968. Barabino commented on her new role: “My vision for BMES, our profession and the institutions and entities that represent biomedical engineering, is that we practice and are characterized by diversity inclusion, and that we serve as a model for others in doing so. Diversity inclusion is a term coined to denote a characteristic where an institution demonstrates through its policies and practices that diversity is central to its mission – this characteristic is essential to drive future innovation in our field. I will work tirelessly to lead by example and anticipate that others will follow suit.” 12
Transformative NIH Grant to Image Lung Cancer During Surgery If a tumor is more visible and easier to distinguish from surrounding tissues, surgeons will more likely be able to remove it completely. That’s the rationale behind a new $7 million, five-year “transformative” grant from the National Institutes of Health to a team of researchers from Emory University, Georgia Tech and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Shuming Nie, Ph.D., and his colleagues have been developing fluorescent nanoparticle probes that hone in on cancer cells. The grant will support the team’s continuing work on nanoparticles and the instruments that visualize them for cancer detection during surgery. Team members include May Wang, Ph.D., from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sunil Singhal, M.D., of Perelman School of Medicine.
$2M Transformative Grant Awarded to Support Development of Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics The NIH has awarded nearly $2 million to researchers to develop a new class of therapeutics for treating traumatic injuries and degenerative diseases. Lead by Todd McDevitt, Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell Engineering Center and associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, the five-year project focuses on developing biomaterials capable of capturing molecules from pluripotent stem cells and delivering them to wound sites to enhance tissue regeneration. By applying these unique molecules, clinicians may be able to harness the regenerative power of stem cells while avoiding concerns of tumor formation and immune system compatibility associated with most stem cell transplantation approaches. The team includes, Wallace H. Coulter Department associate professor, Johnna Temenoff, Ph.D. and George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering professor and executive director of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, Robert Guldberg, Ph.D.
Emerging Frontiers Award for Development for Rehab Robots Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University will develop a “therapeutic robot” to help rehabilitate and improve motor skills in people with mobility problems. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $2 million research grant over four years through its Division of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation. The project is called “Partnered Rehabilitative Movement: Cooperative Human-robot Interactions for Motor Assistance, Learning, and Communication.” The robot developed through the project could enhance, assist and improve motor skills in humans with varying motor capabilities and deficits. Other applications of the technologies and theories developed could include the design of prosthetic devices or sports robots that entertain and improve fitness.
Styczynski Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Funding Mark Styczynski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, received funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges. Styczynski will pursue an innovative global health research project titled “Pigment-Based, Low-Cost, Portable Nutrition Status Tests,” which proposes to create portable, low-cost, bacteriabased genetic circuits to measure blood micronutrient levels without requiring sophisticated instrumentation to perform or read the test. These circuits would provide an inexpensive, rapid method to diagnose nutrition levels, such as vitamins and minerals, in the field. Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Styczynski’s project is one of 108 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced as part of round 7 of the program. 13
Excellence in Scholarship & Research Gilda Barabino (BME) Woman of Distinction Award, for the 2011 Georgia Tech Women’s Leadership Conference.
Hang Lu (ChBE) Sigma Xi Best Paper Award
Tom Barker (BME) Junior Investigator Award by the American Society for Matrix Biology
Julia Kubanek (Biology) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Ravi Bellamkonda (BME) Newly endowed Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan Chair
Shuming Nie (BME) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Barbara Boyan (BME) Orthopaedic Research Society Women’s Leadership Forum Award
Christine Payne (Chem/Biochem) DARPA Young Faculty Award
Barbara Boyan (BME) Sigma Xi Sustained Research Award Robert Butera, PhD (ECE) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Suman Das (ME) named to the Morris M. Bryan, Jr. Chair in Mechanical Engineering for Advanced Manufacturing Systems Craig Forest (ME) Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award Andrés García (ME) 2012 Clemson Award for Basic Research from the Society for Biomaterials. Andrés García (ME) honored by the Society for Biomaterials for top 25 journal article. Andrés García (ME) Georgia Tech Athletic Association as the Hyundai Professor of Excellence. Andrés García (ME) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Dan Goldman (Physics) Innovation in Research and Education (GT FIRE) Award Dan Goldman (Physics) DARPA Young Faculty Award Robert Guldberg (ME) Sigma Xi Best Faculty Paper Melissa Kemp (BME) “Best Advisor” Award BioEngineering Graduate Program Harold Kim (Physics) Innovation in Research and Education (GT FIRE) Award Wilbur Lam (BME) NSF CAREER Award Aaron Levine (Public Policy) Appointed to an Institute of Medicine Committee Aaron Levine (Public Policy) NSF CAREER Award Raquel Lieberman (Chem/Biochem) Sigma Xi Young Faculty Research Award Hang Lu (ChBE) CSB2 Prize in Systems Biology
Manu Platt (BME) Petit Institute “Above and Beyond Award” for Junior Faculty Steve Potter (BME) Ector Outstanding Teacher Award Steve Potter (BME) Teaching Excellence Award from the Regents at the USG James Powers (CHEM) Lifetime Membership in the International Society of Proteolysis. Arthur Ragauskas (Chem/Biochem) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science J. Todd Streelman (Biology) Petit Institute “Above and Beyond Award” for Senior Faculty Mark Styczynski (ChBE) 2011 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award Mark Styczynski (ChBE) 2012 CETL/ BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award at Todd Sulchek (ME) 2011 Faculty Early Career Award from the NSF Todd Sulchek (ME) Petit Institute “Above and Beyond Award” for Junior Faculty Todd Sulchek (ME) 2012 CETL/ BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award at the 2012 Faculty/Staff Honors Luncheon Eberhard Voit (BME) Elected 2012 Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) Eberhard Voit (BME) Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Bill Wepfer (ME) 2012 Georgia Tech College of Engineering ADVANCE Leadership Award Bill Wepfer (ME) received the 2012 Fellow of ABET award Loren Williams’ (Chem/Biochem) PloS One paper selected as a “Faculty of 1000” Loren Williams (Chemistry/Biochemistry) Petit Institute “Above and Beyond Award” for Senior Faculty Ajit Yoganathan (BME) Pritzler Distinguished Lectureship
National Science Foundation CAREER Awards
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
Daniel Goldman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor - Physics
“Discovery and Dissemination of Neuromechanical Principles of Swimming, Walking and Running” The work funded by Goldman’s CAREER grant will develop a neuromechanics of movement of small organisms like lizards on and within ground like dry and wet sand. He will develop physical robot models and models of interaction with the complex substrates to generate and test biological hypotheses. Goldman will use the robots from the locomotion research to create “hands-on” robot modules to teach science by: 1) Developing and teaching a course in hands-on experimental science for undergraduates emphasizing principles of mechanics, electronics and biology and 2) Developing “Robotics Inspired Science Education” (RISE) nights to utilize robots to generate interest and teach principles of science to the public.
Wilbur Lam, Ph.D., Assistant Professor - Biomedical Engineering
“Understanding the Contraction Biomechanics of Platelets at the Single-Cell Level” The four-year, $450,000 award will support Lam’s research on the biomechanical properties of platelets, the cells responsible for blood clot formation. This award could lead to new categories of platelet diagnostics and help scientists identify new types of blood thinning drugs which will lead to a better treatment of diseases such as inflammatory disorders and sickle cell anemia. Lam plans to develop a science outreach program for hospitalized children, in which the children’s own diseases are used as springboards for learning about science which will enable these students to develop age-appropriate modules centered around chronic diseases for which children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are hospitalized.
Aaron Levine, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor - Public Policy
“Ethically Contentious Science and the Graduate School Experience” This grant will research the professional development of graduate students in emerging, but possibly contentious scientific fields, such as stem cell research and nanotechnology, and aims to understand how working in contentious areas of science affects learning in graduate school and the development of scientific careers. Levine will develop a new interdisciplinary course bridging ethically contentious scientific disciplines and public policy, and the development of a training module distilling key findings from the project into a portable format designed for easy inclusion into existing training programs. The primary goal of these educational initiatives is preparing scientists to thrive in ethically contentious fields, thus strengthening the U.S. science and technology enterprise.
Todd Sulchek, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor - Mechanical Engineering “Understanding Multivalent Biological Bonds for Biosensor Applications”
Sulchek will be studying multivalent protein adhesion in order to improve how well biosensors can bind target molecules. He hopes to create methods to watch the binding and unbinding of multiple protein bonds in quick succession and close proximity. As part of the CAREER Award outreach component, Sulchek will work with local high schools to match biology students with physical science students into teams in order to emphasize the overlapping nature of the scientific and engineering disciplines with the goal of portraying science and engineering in a more exciting and interesting light.
Excellence in Scholarship & Research Georgia Tech Chemists Ranked as Best in World Georgia Tech has some of the best chemists in the world according to rankings published by Thomson Reuters Science Watch. Younan Xia, Ph.D., professor in the school of chemistry and biochemistry with a joint appointment in the Georgia Tech/Emory Department of Biomedical Engineering, is ranked No. 4 on the Top 100 Materials Scientists list and No. 35 on the Top 100 Chemists list. Xia, who came to Tech this spring from Washington University in St. Louis, studies the chemistry of nanomaterials, from making them to using nanomaterials in biomedical research as well as in environmentally friendly technologies such as solar cells and fuel cells. He is currently a Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar in Nanomedicine and the Brock Family Chair. Mostafa El-Sayed, Ph.D., professor and director of the Laser Dynamics Laboratory, is ranked as No. 17 on the list of Top 100 Chemists. El-Sayed has been at Tech since 1994 and studies the conversion of electronic energy in a wide variety of structures such as semiconductors (quantum dots) and metallic nanostructures. Among his most promising areas of research are using lasers and gold nanorods to detect and fight cancerous tumors under the skin. In 2007, El-Sayed received the U.S. National Medal of Science by then-President George W. Bush. His citation reads: “for his seminal and creative contributions to our understanding of the electronic and optical properties of nano-materials and to their applications in nano-catalysis and nano-medicine, for his humanitarian efforts of exchange among countries and for his role in developing the scientific leadership of tomorrow.” ElSayed is currently a Regents’ Professor and the Julius Brown Chair.
Petit Institute Members Named as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Six Petit Institute faculty members have been named Fellows of AAAS, the world’s largest general scientific society. They were awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. AAAS is the publisher of the journal Science and was founded in 1848, and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. Andrés García (ME) for distinguished contributions to the field of biomaterials and regenerative medicine, particularly for the engineering of materials for therapeutic and cell delivery and tissue repair.
Arthur Ragauskas (Chem/BioChem) for distinguished fundamental contributions to the field of green chemistry and biorefining of biomass to biofuels and bio-based chemicals and materials.
Julia Kubanek (Biology) for distinguished contributions to chemical ecology, particularly for advances in aquatic ecology, marine natural products, drug discovery and chemical signaling.
Robert Butera (ECE) was named for advances in computational neuroscience and neurotechnology, promoting engineering through society, and contributing to STEM policy and educational initiatives.
Shuming Nie (BME) for distinguished contributions to single-molecule surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) as well as the development of semiconductor quantum dots for molecular and cellular imaging.
Eberhard Voit (BME) for distinguished research and the development of innovative teaching tools in the fields of computational systems biology and metabolic pathway analysis.
García Recognized as Top Biomaterials Researcher Andrés J. García, Ph.D., a faculty member at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been named the 2012 recipient of the Clemson Award for Basic Research from the Society for Biomaterials. This national award is given to an outstanding community member who has demonstrated significant contributions to and understanding of the interaction of materials with tissues within a biological environment. “I am truly honored by this award and recognition,” said García, who is a Woodruff Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “The Society for Biomaterials has had a huge impact in my scientific and professional career and I am delighted to join past awardees from our community. I am also proud to represent my great colleagues along with past and present trainees from Georgia Tech who have contributed to this recognition.” The Society for Biomaterials is the oldest scientific organization in the field of biomaterials and has a mission of encouraging, fostering, promoting and advancing education, and research and development, in biomaterials science. The society has grown to more than 2,000 members since its inception in 1974. “García is an outstanding recipient of this award,” said Buddy Ratner, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering at the University of Washington, who recommended García for the Clemson award. “His strong commitment to polymeric biomaterials and to the modern biology of healing and regeneration, coupled with a fine intelligence, a charismatic personality and supercharged energy, has propelled his career and technical impact to the top of the discipline.” In addition to this award, the society announced that a pioneering publication by García was one of twenty-five articles selected as part of a special virtual edition of the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research celebrating the 100th volume of the journal. The criteria for inclusion of a paper in the special issue was the identification of articles that, in their time, were considered novel, original, state-of-the-art, ground-breaking, and opened new areas of biomaterials research. García’s work established the paradigm that cell response to material properties could be mediated by protein adsorption. This research established an experimental framework to analyze adhesive mechanisms controlling cell-surface interactions and provided a general strategy for surface-directed control of adsorbed protein activity to manipulate cell function in biomaterial and biotechnology applications. This finding established a new strategy to direct cellular responses to biomaterials and has broad application to the engineering of materials to elicit specific biological responses. The article, “Surface Chemistry Modulates Fibronectin Conformation and Directs Integrin Binding and Specificity to Control Cell Adhesion,” was co-authored by collaborator David M. Collard, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, and by Benjamin G. Keselowsky, Ph.D., who was then a graduate student in the García laboratory. Keselowsky is now an associate professor at the University of Florida. García’s research program focuses on engineering biomaterials that promote tissue repair and healing, quantitative analyses of mechanisms regulating cell adhesive forces and cell-based therapies for regenerative medicine. These integrated cellular engineering strategies have provided new insights into mechanisms regulating cell-material interactions and established new approaches for the rational design of biomaterials and cell-delivery vehicles for regenerative medicine applications, including bone repair, vascularization and inflammation. His laboratory’s research has led to advances across many areas of regenerative medicine including applications related to the bone and cartilage, angiogenesis, neurogenesis, inflammation, and implant integration with tissues. García has co-authored papers in leading biomaterials, tissue engineering, and cell biology journals as well as several patents and invention disclosures. He has received several distinctions throughout his successful career, including the NSF CAREER Award, Arthritis Investigator Award, Georgia Tech’s CETL/BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award, Young Investigator Award from the Society for Biomaterials, Petit Institute Above and Beyond Award and Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Interdisciplinary Activities Award. Currently García serves as chair of the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program at Georgia Tech. He is also the director of a NIH/NIGMS biotechnology training grant on cell and tissue engineering. He serves on the editorial boards of leading biomaterial and regenerative medicine journals as well as NIH and NSF review panels. García has been recognized as a top Latino educator by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and has been elected a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering by the International Union of Societies of Biomaterials Science and Engineering.
Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Public Service Providing Prostheses to People in Need A one-time good deed that involved providing a man in Belize with prosthetic legs has evolved into an ongoing — and ever growing — nonprofit effort for Robert Kistenberg. It all started while Kistenberg, co-director of the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program in the School of Applied Physiology, was teaching at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern in Dallas in the 1990s. “A friend of mine was doing medical mission work in Belize when she met a man without legs, who had managed to make do with getting around on a skateboard,” he said. “When she asked if I could help, I told her that I couldn’t send him a set of legs, that he’d have to come to the United States and that I couldn’t promise anything. Within three days, she’d raised the money, and Adrian was on his way.” Although the fittings were a success, Kistenberg was concerned about how he’d do with follow-up visits with the man to ensure that the prostheses were successful, given the distance. “I started taking an annual trip to do follow-up with Adrian in 1996, and before I knew it, we had established a permanent clinic — which remains the only prosthetic clinic in Belize,” he said. “The name of the organization in Belize is called Project Hope Belize. The 501(c)(3) organization in the United States is Prosthetic Hope International, an organization that allows us to provide prostheses to people abroad and right here in Atlanta.”
Novel Undergraduate Fellowship Program Learning by Innovative Neuro Collaborations in Research (LINCR) is a new undergraduate research fellowship program. Sponsored by a $40,000 GTFire Grant, the fund for inspiring innovation in research and education at Georgia Tech, the program’s mission is to unite disparate neuro-groups on campus. LINCR is an undergraduate research program that’s really the first of its kind, organized and run by undergraduates. This year’s program spanned 13 weeks. LINCR fellows work full time between their two respective laboratories and attend workshops that cover presentations, data analysis, literature review, research techniques, scientific reasoning and bioethics. Students who participate in the program initiate collaborations between two labs, are assigned graduate and faculty mentors, and produce pilot figures for use with grant applications to carry their projects out into the future. In completing these assignments these undergraduates find other faculty, organizations, foundations, and companies that may take interest in their research and seek out future grant opportunities for their Principle Investigators. This past year, three fellows and six laboratories collaborated. Connor Crowley, a biochemistry major who is working with Michelle LaPlaca, Ph.D. and Facundo Fernandez, Ph.D., is investigating the effects of traumatic brain injury. Candace Law, a biomedical engineering major, has connected the labs of Steve Potter, Ph.D. and Christine Payne, Ph.D., on a project that looks into the use of nanoparticles for drug delivery to brain. Christopher Pace, electrical engineering major, is working between Maysam Ghovanloo, Ph.D., and Garrett Stanley, Ph.D., using electrical brain stimulation to gain a better understanding of brain function and the utility of electrical stimulators in the brain. In conclusion to this summer’s program, GTNeuro hosted the LINCR closing symposium featuring the LINCR fellows. Keynote speakers included Bill Todd the former CEO of the Georgia Cancer Coalition, Colin Potts, the Georgia Tech Provost of Undergraduate Education, and Ross Mason, a Georgia Tech alumnus and founder of the Healthcare Institute for Neurorecovery and Innovation.
New Graduate and Post-doctoral Seminar Series The Graduate and Post-Doc (GaP) Seminar Series is a weekly event of research presentations by two graduate students or post-docs conducting bio-related research. The series is organized and sponsored by the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience with additional support from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. The GaP Seminar Series is the brainchild of biomedical engineering assistant professor, Manu Platt, Ph.D. When asked about the purpose of the seminar series, Platt stated, “the goal of these seminars is to provide a venue for our graduate students and postdocs to present their research in a formal manner as well as a great way for us to be kept up to date on what is happening in all of our bio-related labs here at Georgia Tech and Emory.” New collaborations are also being spawned by GaP presentations. Since its inception in April of 2011, the GaP Seminar Series has hosted more than 100 student led research presentations from over 6 different departments at Georgia Tech/Emory with weekly videoconferencing of presentations to Emory, and therefore being completely inclusive of our colleagues on that campus. Weekly, we are averaging 30-40 audience members in the IBB Seminar room at Georgia Tech and 15-20 at Emory.
Blast from the Past: Resurrecting Ancient Life If we were able to resurrect a dinosaur in the laboratory today how could we be certain that the particular dinosaur actually existed in the distant past and does not simply represent some mutant frankensaurus? Ongoing research at Georgia Tech aims to answer this question in an experimental approach by adding rigor to the methods and protocols used to resurrect components of ancient life. Eric Gaucher, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Biology, was recently awarded $700K from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to, for the first time, benchmark ancestral sequence reconstruction methods. Gaucher’s approach involves generating a known experimental phylogeny in the lab using fluorescent proteins cloned into bacteria. Generating such a “known” phylogeny with evolved sequences will, in turn, allow the group to test resurrection predictions since the true ancestral proteins are generated in the laboratory and are thus known. An important component of the funding involves integrating evolutionary and molecular biology research into the greater Atlanta community. In collaboration with Dunwoody High school, Gaucher and Ryan Randall have developed a new Biotechnology curriculum whereby students are introduced to the connections between genotype and phenotype by evolving fluorescent proteins at the high school. In addition, the Gaucher lab annually hosts a team of Dekalb county high school students competing in the National Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, that involves bioengineering of fluorescent proteins. For his efforts, Gaucher is also a recent recipient of Georgia Tech’s Class of 1934 Teaching Award. This award is based on student evaluations and presented to faculty with the highest ratings in overall effectiveness in teaching.
VATE & SERVE
Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Public Service
The Petit Institute’s culture is rooted in innovation and the entrepreneurial nature of our enviro wide variety of outreach activities, including education in various forms and leading workshops Astrobiology Summer Science Camp Engages High Schoolers The fourth annual “Life on the Edge” Astrobiology summer enrichment camp was held on the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology on June 11- 15, 2012. This camp is sponsored by Georgia Tech’s Ribo Evo Center. Throughout the week, 20 high school students had the unique opportunity to explore the limits of life. The students engaged in interactive, hands-on, inquiry-based activities that were designed to explore extremophilic life. The camp is organized and run each year by a team of Georgia Tech faculty members and students, along with local high school teachers. The high school teachers were supported by the Georgia Intern-Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT) program. The undergraduate students were part of the “Summer Pre-teaching” program, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The teachers and undergraduate students developed activities and lesson plans in accordance with the National Science Standards. Life on the Edge provides teachers, undergraduates and high school students exposure to the excitement of astrobiology, and affords the teachers methods for incorporating astrobiology into their high school teaching programs. Basic biology concepts were reviewed and explained in an astrobiological context to illustrate the adaptation and survival of many types of extremophiles and the diversity of environments that can support life. A variety of extremophiles were grown in the SLP lab, including halophiles, psychrophiles, and thermophiles. Each student learned biological techniques such as micropipetting, gel electrophoresis, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which are methods used by astrobiology researchers. Additional activities included, desiccating and rehydrating rotifers, exploring Titan’s low temperature environment using liquid nitrogen, attending lectures by the center faculty, touring research labs and teaching facilities, and presenting group projects final presentations that highlighted the investigation of halophiles, psychrophiles, and thermophiles.
Buzz on Biotechnology High School Open House Each year, the Petit Institute hosts a Saturday open house for high school students to come to Georgia Tech and explore the world of bioengineering and bioscience. This annual open house event was started in 2003 for the purpose of introducing high school students to the world of science and engineering in a fun and accessible way. Organized by the Bioengineering and Bioscience Unified Graduate Students (BBUGS), the group hosted over 400 students, parents, teachers and school administrators from 45 Atlanta area schools and home school programs for a day of engaging, hands-on scientific demonstrations, seminars and tours of the Institute’s state-of-the-art laboratories. Some of the demonstrations included “Edible Cells,” “Virtual Stomach Surgery” and “Protein Folding” and the students even had a chance to see and learn from a real pig’s heart and a human brain! Three of the Institute’s research centers – the Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution, the Stem Cell Engineering Center and the Center for Chemical Evolution – also joined in the fun to put on demonstrations for the visitors.
Graduate Students demonstrating bio-research to students during the Buzz on Biotechnology Open House.
onment extends beyond the walls of our campus The faculty and trainees participate in a s & symposiums in our respective fields. ~ Robert E. Guldberg, Ph.D., Executive Director AbSciCon held at Georgia Tech Georgia Institute of Technology hosted the fifth biennial Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon), April 16-20 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. Loren Williams, Ph.D., professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Eric Gaucher, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Biology at Georgia Tech were the co-chairs of the conference. AbSciCon attracts a community of scientists working in the multidisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe – and highlights research supported by NASA’s Astrobiology Program. NASA’s Astrobiology program addresses three fundamental questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth and, if so, how can we detect it? What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe? In striving to answer these questions and improve understanding of biological, planetary, cosmic phenomena and relationships among them, experts discussed astrobiology research to help advance laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in space. A record number of abstracts, more than 800, were accepted for this meeting, and the scientific program was packed with talks on current research. Among hot topics on the AbSciCon 2012 agenda are the Mars exploration and the Mars Science Laboratory mission, current research on extrasolar planet habitability and latest results from analyses of extraterrestrial materials such as meteorites and comet dust samples. All plenary sessions and four selected technical sessions were broadcast live using webcast. One highlight of the conference was the final round of the NASA Astrobiology Program’s first annual Famelab Astrobiology science communication competition. Nichelle Nichols, known for her portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original “Star Trek” television series, hosted the public event which also was webcast live.
Petit Institute Faculty Participate in the Atlanta Science Tavern Founded as a science cafe in June 2008, the Atlanta Science Tavern has grown to become Atlanta’s premier grass roots science forum. Organized on Meetup.com, it now boasts over 2,700 members and produces or promotes a wide variety of science-related educational and cultural activities each and every month. The Center for Chemical Evolution at Georgia Tech help supports the community forum. Eric Gaucher, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Biology and Nick Hud, Ph.D., professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, presented on “Resurrecting Ancient Life.” Daniel I. Goldman, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Physics focused on “Using X-rays, Computers and Robots to Reveal the Secrets of Swimming in Sand” and Steve Potter, professor of Biomedical Engineering, spoke on “The Ethics of Making Hybrid Robots with Living Brains and Artificial Bodies.”
Eric Gaucher, Ph.D., presenting “Resurrecting Ancient Life” at the Atlanta Science Tavern.
Education & Training New Training Center for Computational Neuroscience Faculty at Emory University and Georgia Tech are training young scientists in how to use the tools of biomedical computation to solve challenging problems of neuroscience. A new five-year grant of $1.6 million from the National Institutes of Health will create a training center in computational neuroscience, one of only five national training centers supported by the NIH through its NIH Blueprint training grant program. The grant is entitled “From cells to systems and applications: computational neuroscience training at Emory and Georgia Tech.” Principal investigators are Garrett Stanley, Ph.D., associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and Dieter Jaeger, Ph.D., professor of biology, Emory University. The core training group will initially consist of 16 faculty members from departments spanning Emory University School of Medicine (physiology, neurology, anesthesiology, biomedical engineering) and Emory College of Arts and Sciences (biology, psychology) as well as Georgia Tech (biomedical engineering, electrical engineering). “This impressive range of faculty and departments provides testimony to the highly collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of this field of study at Georgia Tech and Emory,” noted Stanley.
New Graduate Summer Course in Biotechnology & International Security In the summer 2012 semester, Robert Butera, Ph.D., and Margaret Kosal, Ph.D., offered a new graduate course called Biotechnology and International Affairs. This course explored the interface between biotechnology and national security concerns. Rapid biotechnological changes are anticipated to occur over the ensuing decades in a globalized world characterized by complex security challenges. Butera and Kosal discussed questions such as, what security concerns are posed by rapid developments in biotechnology? How do governments deal with these concerns? Can regulatory frameworks keep pace with rapid developments in biotechnology? How are these issues handled at an international level?
Atlanta Pharma Community Collaborates on Drug Development Education Doctoral students from four Atlanta universities worked together recently to learn how to develop new pharmaceutical products during a two-week interdisciplinary short course at Georgia Tech. Two dozen students from Georgia Tech, Mercer University, Georgia State University and Emory University heard lectures from Atlanta-based medical professionals, researchers, and pharmaceutical company leaders – and worked in teams to develop plans for how a drug company might convert a promising molecule into a real product. To demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the drug development process, each team included pharmacists, bio-scientists, chemists and engineers. The course is expected to be offered once every two years. “Each team was given information from the scientific literature on a drug in early stage development by a pharmaceutical company, and was asked to put together and justify a detailed plan for bringing that molecule forward into a drug product useful in clinical medicine,” said Mark Prausnitz,Ph.D., the course’s leader and a Regents’ professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. Students were pleased with the opportunity to see the entire drug development process and to work closely with peers from other universities. “Working in an interdisciplinary team allowed us to connect the dots between all of the medical, scientific and business aspects of bringing a drug to the market,” said Meera Gujjar, a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences at Mercer University. “This shows how Atlanta universities are working together and with local pharmaceutical companies to build a stronger pharmaceutical research and education community here,” Prausnitz added.
Petit Institute Now Home to BioEngineering Graduate Program The interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program was established in 1992 and since that time, its administrative office has moved around campus. Beginning in 2012, the BioEngineering Program will call the Petit Institute its permanent home. The BioEngineering Graduate Ph.D. and M.S. program is a unique and interdisciplinary program ranked 2nd in the nation by US News and World Report. Students apply through one of eight participating Georgia Tech schools or departments and are free to work with any of the 90 participating program faculty members from the Colleges of Engineering, Computing, Sciences, and Architecture as well as Emory University School of Medicine. The BioEngineering Graduate Program is not the most innovative and integrative program available at Georgia Tech, giving the students the flexibility and creativity to pursue interdisciplinary research and create their own future. AndrĂŠs GarcĂa, Ph.D., professor is the programâ€™s director. Over 180 students have graduate from the program in a very broad range of bio-related research.
Technology-Focused Innovative Teaching Multi-university Stem Cell Engineering Course Showcases Leaders in the Field and Connects Classrooms Across the Country
Using videoconferencing technology, the Stem Cell Engineering course allows leaders from around the world to lecture to three different universities - Georgia Tech, MIT and University of Illinois Champagne Urbana. Todd McDevitt, Ph.D., creator of the course, decided rather than hear from only him throughout the semester, that the students would benefit from hearing from several others in the field. Experts from industry and academia, such as Sean Palecek, Ph.D. (Wisconsin), Taby Ahsan, Ph.D. (Tulane) and Jon Rowley (Lonza Group LTD.). In addition to the lectures, the students conduct interactive journal article reviews between the institutes throughout the course. This course provides a foundation in the application of analytical engineering approaches for the quantitative study of stem cell biology and effective translation of stem cells into therapies and diagnostics. The progression of the course content was intended to lead students through the conceptual process of identifying an appropriate type of stem cell based on functional attributes for a desired application, isolation and purification of desired cell type(s), expansion in a stable state, directing the differentiation to specific phenotype(s), and use of appropriate characterization techniques and quality control metrics to quantitatively assess cell phenotype for the development of stem cell-based technologies. McDevitt hopes that he can expand the class both with incorporating more experts as well as more institutions around the globe.
Interfacing Engineering Technology and Rehabilitation For future advancement of technologies to continue assisting in the rehabilitation process, there is a need to establish collaborative interactions in which the goals of this profession become intertwined with the skills and goals of engineers, scientists, and consumers. As more technologies reach bedside, there will be a need for trained therapists that can oversee the quality and validity of these new applications before they reach the consumer. It is well-believed that advancement of clinical care will require more proactive engagement of rehabilitation clinicians, engineers, and scientists. For this reason, Randy Trumbower, M.D., Ph.D., teaches a highly novel course to provide students skills in linking advanced research in engineering technology and rehabilitation. The course features recent discoveries in research related to rehabilitation technology. Students and faculty participate in active discussion regarding research directions and ethical practices aimed to further develop applied rehabilitation technologies. Students also discuss methods to modify and measure responses in clinical situations using these technologies. The course, which is taught to Georgia Tech and Emory University graduate students, includes technologies related to neural prosthetics, brain-machine interfacing, wearable sensors, telerehabilitation, regenerative medicine, robotics, and informatics as well as the processes for technology transfer, patent applications, and licensing. Discussion points are derived from real case studies using patients with physical disabilities as well as technology consumers and consultants.
Education & Training Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars Class - The Best of the Bunch 2012 ushered in a new class of Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars who began their full-year research program in the cutting edge laboratories of the Petit Institute. The class of nineteen scholars was selected after a competitive application process for their academic distinction and expressed interest in bio-related research. After being matched with a lab and a graduate student or postdoctoral mentor, each scholar conducted independent research projects across multiple areas of research in bioengineering and bioscience. The 2012 scholars are majors in biomedical engineering, biology and chemistry/biochemistry and represent four Atlanta area universities - Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Agnes Scott College and Georgia Gwinnett College. Since the program’s inception in 2000, the Petit Institute has supported over 150 top undergraduate researchers who have gone on to advanced degrees and distinguished careers in research, medicine and industry.
Second Class of Stem Cell Biomanufacturing Trainees Announced Georgia Tech’s Stem Cell Biomanufacturing Integrated Graduate Education Research Training (IGERT) program, recently identified by the journal Nature as one of the “out of the box” manufacturing educational programs in the country, announced its second class of graduate students. The seven new trainees come from a wide variety of disciplines including the school of chemical and biomolecular engineering, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and material science and engineering. The $3 million NSF-funded IGERT was awarded to Georgia Tech in 2010 to educate and train the first generation of Ph.D. students in the translation and commercialization of stem cell technologies for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. The current state of the field of stem cell research offers a unique opportunity for engineers to contribute significantly to the generation of robust, reproducible and scalable methods for phenotypic characterization, propagation, differentiation and bioprocessing of stem cells. Directed by Co-Principal investigators, Todd C. McDevitt, PhD, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Robert M. Nerem, PhD, professor emeritus in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, this grant provides a unique training opportunity to top engineering graduate students looking to understand how to scale and control stem cells into clinically relevant numbers. The goal, to train the next generation of experts in this new field of stem cell biomanufacturing for the development of stem cell technologies, diagnostics, and therapies. Catalyzed by a surge of activity in the late 1990s, advances in stem cell biology over the past decade have continued to accelerate at a rapid pace. The manufacturing industry is expanding with commercial development of stem cell products projected to be $10 billion within the next 6-8 years. Moreover, the transformation from discoveries in stem cell biology to viable cellular technologies has enormous promise to revolutionize a range of applications for many aspects of society. As a result, stem cell biomanufacturing is on the verge of broadly impacting regenerative medicine, drug discovery and development, cell-based diagnostics and cancer. Earlier this year, United States President Barack Obama asked Georgia Tech’s President G.P. “Bud” Peterson to join the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership steering committee to revolutionize manufacturing in the United States. Along with other industry and university representatives, the purpose of this committee is to identify and invest in the key emerging technologies, such as information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology to help U.S. manufacturers improve cost, quality and speed of production in order to remain globally competitive. The stem cell biomanufacturing industry need look no further than President Peterson’s backyard for future experts in stem cell biomanufacturing. The Stem Cell Biomanufacturing IGERT is further catalyzed by the Stem Cell Engineering Center at Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech’s Stem Cell Biomanufacturing IGERT award will train over 30 graduate students in the first 5 years of the program. The IGERT offers a core curriculum in stem cell engineering and analytical design processes coupled with elective tracks in advanced technologies, public policy, ethics or entrepreneurship.
Beckman Coulter Foundation Endows Three Petit Undergraduate Research Scholarships The Beckman Coulter Foundation announced a $500,000 donation to the Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars program. This donation will be used to establish the Beckman Coulter Undergraduate Research Scholars Endowment Fund that will support three “Beckman Coulter Foundation Petit Scholars” for the life of the program. The Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars program is a competitive scholarship program that serves to develop the next generation of leading bioengineering and bioscience researchers by providing a comprehensive research experience for a full year. Open to all Atlanta area university students, the program allows undergraduates to conduct independent research in the state-of-the-art laboratories of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (Petit Institute). Under the mentorship of a graduate student and faculty member, scholars develop their own independent research project. “This program provides top undergraduate students with the opportunity to experience firsthand the thrill of research discovery and innovation and hopefully encourages them to pursue an advanced degree in medicine or biotechnology,” said Robert E. Guldberg,Ph.D., Executive Director of the Petit Institute. “We are deeply grateful to the Beckman Coulter Foundation and Russ Bell for this significant gift enabling us to expand the Petit Scholars program.” “Every year the number of outstanding undergraduates who apply to the program grows,” added Todd McDevitt, Ph.D., program faculty advisor. “Our increasing challenge is to secure enough funding for all of the well-qualified students to work in the Petit Institute investigator’s laboratories.” The Beckman Coulter Foundation felt a real connection between its mission to support healthcare-related science education and the Petit Institute’s innovative undergraduate research scholars program because of the impact it has made thus far. Since its inception in 2000, the program has trained over 186 talented students and created opportunities for them to conduct research in state-of-the-art research facilities. “This grant not only honors Beckman Coulter founders, Arnold Beckman and Wallace Coulter, two of the most important scientific innovators of the 20th century, but also honors their tradition of ‘paying forward,’” said Russ Bell, President of the Beckman Coulter Foundation. “I was fortunate and blessed to have been asked as a Georgia Tech undergraduate in 1968 to do research in Nancy Walls’ lab, so I am especially happy that the Beckman Coulter Foundation has recognized the excellence of the Petit Undergraduate Research program,” Bell said. “We know that our support will help produce the next generation of scientific leaders that would make Beckman’s Coulter’s founders proud.” Petit Scholars receive training that provides a solid foundation for them to pursue advanced degrees in science or engineering with 62% entering a graduate degree program and 15% entering medical school indicating that close to 80% of Petit Scholars go on to obtain advanced degrees. Many are already distinguishing themselves in research, medicine and industry. Each year, Georgia Tech hosts a fund-raising dinner for the Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars program in order to support the next class. Over 100 Atlanta-area community members and business leaders attend. The Beckman Coulter Foundation is a separate, private foundation established in 2007 as an important part of Beckman Coulter’s charitable giving efforts. The Foundation serves as the philanthropic arm of Beckman Coulter by funding programs which are focused around science, science education and healthcarerelated research that improves patient health and the quality of life. Since its establishment, the Beckman Coulter Foundation has provided more than $5 million dollars of funding toward grants in the areas of: Clinical Fellowships, Clinical Laboratory Science Programs, President’s Scholars Programs, Science Enrichment and numerous other educational and research-based programs.
Petit Institute Community Faculty Members *Cyrus Aiden *Mark Allen Julia Babensee Edward M. Balog Gang Bao Gilda Barabino Thomas Barker Bridgette Barry Ravi Bellamkonda Paul Benkeser Andreas Bommarius Mark Borodovsky Franklin Bost *Edward Botchwey Barbara Boyan *Luke Brewster Rob Butera Elliot Chaikof Julie Champion Yury Chernoff I. King Copland Jennifer Curtis Suman Das Michael Davis Michelle Dawson F. Levent Degertekin Steve DeWeerth Robert Dickson Jean-Marie D. Dimandja J. Brandon Dixon Donald Doyle *Mostafa El-Sayed *C. Ross Ethier Christoph Fahrni Yuhong Fan Andrei Fedorov *Alberto Fernandez-Nieves Aloke Finn Craig Forest Jacques Galipeau Ken Gall Andrés Garciá Eric Gaucher Gregory Gibson Don Giddens Rudy Gleason Daniel Goldman Michael Goodisman *Martha Grover Robert Guldberg Brian Hammer Steve Harvey Peter Hesketh Xiaoping Hu David Hu Nick Hud *Seung Soon Jang Hanjoong Jo I. King Jordan Wendy Kelly Melissa Kemp Harold Kim *Robert Kistenberg David Ku *Julia Kubanek Wilbur A. Lam Michelle LaPlaca Robert Lee Eva Lee Aaron Levine Raquel Lieberman Kirill Lobachev Hang Lu David Lynn Andrew Lyon Sheldon May Nael McCarty Todd McDevitt John McDonald *Patrick McGrath Larry McIntire Alfred Merrill Valeria Milam Robert Nerem Thomas Nichols Shuming Nie Yomi Oyelere Roberto Pacifici Christine Payne Alexandra Peister
George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Emory University Hospital School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Tech Department of Surgery, Emory University School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University School of Physics, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry, Spelman College George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Physics, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University School of Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Physics, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Materials Science & Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Physics, Georgia Tech School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Industrial Systems Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry, Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech Department of Biology, Morehouse College
Manu Platt Steve Potter James Powers Mark Prausnitz Harish Radhakrishna *Arthur Ragauskas Athanassios Sambanis Ken Sandhage Philip Santangelo Chong Shin *Minoru Shinohara Jai Pal Singh Jeffrey Skolnick *Terry Snell *Jim Spain *Stephen Sprigle Garrett Stanley *Kurt Stenn Steve Stice Francesca Storici Jeffrey Streelman Mark Styczynski Todd Sulchek LaKeshia Taite William Taylor Johnna Temenoff *Susan Thomas Peter ThulĂŠ Lena Ting *Randy Trumbower *Vladimir Tsukruk *Fredrik Vannberg Raymond Vito Eberhard Voit Dongmei Wang Roger Wartell *Joshua Weitz Loren Williams *Ronghu Wu *Younan Xia *Chunhui Xu Soojin Yi Ajit Yoganathan Young-sup Yoon Cheng Zhu
Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech The Coca-Cola Company School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Tech STJTRI, Atlanta, GA School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Applied Physiology Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Aderans Research Institute, Inc., Marietta, GA Department of Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia School of School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Medicine, Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Tech School of Materials Science & Engineering, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff, School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Biology, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Medicine, Emory University School of Biology, Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University School of Medicine, Emory University Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech & Emory University *indicates new faculty member in 2012
Ethier Joins Georgia Tech and Emory University Georgia Research Alliance names glaucoma, arterial disease and osteoarthritis expert C. Ross Ethier, Ph.D., as the new GRA Lawrence L. Gellerstedt, Jr. Eminent Scholar in Bioengineering. He is an internationally recognized leader in the area of biomechanics and mechanobiology recently joined the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech in 2012. Ethierâ€™s research has the potential to create a new paradigm for treating glaucoma, the second most common cause of blindness. His glaucoma research focuses on biomechanics of aqueous humor drainage in the normal and glaucomatous eye, and the mechanical and cellular response of optic nerve tissues to intraocular pressure. Additionally, Ethier studies the hemodynamic basis of arterial disease and mechanobiology of osteoarthritis. Ethier comes to Georgia from Imperial College London where he was professor and head of the Department of Bioengineering. He also directed the $17 million Medical Engineering Solutions in Osteoarthritis Center of Excellence, one of four Wellcome Trust/Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Centers in the UK. In addition, he directed the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College. After earning his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ethier joined the faculty of the University Toronto in 1986, where he built a strong program in biomaterials and biomedical engineering. In 2007, he was recruited to Imperial College London. Ethier has published widely and has an extensive history of consulting with industry. He is the co-author of Introductory Biomechanics, a textbook widely used in the U.S., Canada and Europe. He is a Fellow of International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineering. 27
Research News New Collaborative Initiative Funds Interdisciplinary Research The Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience awarded $100,000 to two interdisciplinary teams under a new initiative, the Petit Bioengineering and Bioscience Collaborative Grant program, which was created to support early-stage innovative biotechnology research. The seed grant recipients address a wide range of topics including profiling single cells to understand the heterogeneity of different cell types and new approaches to traumatic brain injury. The call for proposals was welcomed by teams of Petit Institute faculty with one faculty member from Georgia Tech’s College of Science and one from the College of Engineering. “This new program aims to promote the collaboration of new teams of researchers and help them establish preliminary results to apply for large external grant proposals,” said Robert Guldberg, Ph.D., director of the Petit Institute. “This initiative is directly in-line with the Petit Institute’s mission, funding cutting-edge research at the interface of bioengineering and the biosciences.” Melissa Kemp, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department for Biomedical Engineering and Greg Gibson, professor in the School of Biology, proposed a project which aims to develop the measurement tools for relating variability in both genomic and protein information at the single cell level. The ability to conduct this type of profiling in single cells represents a remarkable technological advance in the last two years. “Studies of genomic data often fail to bridge the observed variation in DNA sequences to cellular function, in part due to the variation that is present by both types of measurement,” Kemp said, “with the technologies this project is developing, we will be able to compare population-averaged data to single cell measurements in order to gain new insight in relating genes to phenotype.” Michelle LaPlaca, Ph.D., associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and Al Merrill, Ph.D., professor in the School of Biology, are partnering to merge traumatic brain injury with lipid biology in the hopes of evaluating, for the first time, plasma membrane breakdown mechanisms and lipid signaling following traumatic brain injury.
PETIT “Traumatic brain injury remains a major clinical problem with few effective treatments and the devastating sequelae following this type of injury leads to chronic neural deficits,” LaPlaca stated. “We are optimistic that these funds will propel this important research forward.”
Funding for the new seed grants comes chiefly from the Petit Institute’s endowment as well as contributions from the College of Science and College of Engineering. Each team will receive $50,000 a year for two years; however, the second year of funding will be contingent on submission of an external collaborative grant proposal.
New Post-doctoral Training Grant - Georgia Techâ€™s First The Georgia Institute of Technology has been awarded $1.2 million by the National Institutes of Health for a training program for post-doctoral fellows to develop bioengineering skills and leadership applicable to research into type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). The Innovation and Leadership in Engineering Technologies and Therapies (ILET2) for diabetes postdoctoral training grant is a cross-disciplinary training program in cell and tissue-based therapies and novel insulin delivery technologies. Ten faculty members from Georgia Tech and Emory University will participate in the program, which is expected to train four postdoctoral fellows per year over a period of five years. Athanassios Sambanis, professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, will direct the effort, which will be administratively supported by the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. IDDM is a health condition affecting millions of people worldwide. The disease often has a much greater impact on a personâ€™s life than the more common, type 2 adult onset form of diabetes because it can begin in childhood. IDDM patients are dependent on a careful diet and insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in their blood. Compared to current insulin treatments based on injections or infusion by a pump, new generation therapies have the potential to provide a less invasive and ultimately less costly regulation of blood glucose levels, potentially reducing long-term complications in diabetes care.
At the Heart of the Research - Petit Institute researchers are developing new ways to diagno therapies to sophisticated surgical procedures. Georgia Tech’s emphasis on translational rese Diagnosing Heart Disease Levent Degertekin, Ph.D., is designing tiny devices micromachined from silicon that may make diagnosing and treating coronary artery diseases easier. Degertekin, the George W. Woodruff Chair in Mechanical Systems, and Paul Hasler, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, micromachined intravascular ultrasound imaging arrays with integrated electronics. Placed on catheters inserted into the body, the devices image the arteries of the heart in three dimensions at high resolution using high-frequency ultrasound waves. The system boasts a more compact design and three-dimensional imaging capability for guiding cardiologists during interventions, such as those for completely blocked arteries. The technology also offers higher resolution than current intravascular ultrasound systems, which help diagnose vulnerable plaque, a leading cause of heart attacks. Funding for this research currently is provided by the National Institutes of Health. To commercialize the technology, the researchers have formed a startup company called SIBUS Medical, which is receiving assistance from VentureLab, a unit of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that nurtures faculty startup companies.
Improving Drug Dosing Following a Heart Attack A research team, led by Georgia Tech mechanical engineering assistant professor Craig Forest, Ph.D. is designing a device to quickly and accurately personalize a patient’s drug dosage to prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks. When someone experiencing heart attack symptoms arrives at an emergency room, he or she typically receives a standard dose of aspirin and/or clopidogrel to prevent further blood clotting. But that standard dose may not be the best dose for a given individual. With Forest’s device, a small blood sample is sent through a microchip containing a network of microfabricated capillaries that mimic the branching coronary arteries around the human heart. Because the branches contain flow restrictions of different sizes, the failure of blood to flow through the branches with smaller restrictions indicates that a higher drug dose may be required. Determining the necessary dose of anti-clotting drugs can be difficult. Too much of the drug may cause the patient to experience gastrointestinal bleeding. Too little drug may allow additional clot formation and set the stage for another heart attack. Forest’s device should help determine the right dosage for each patient. Emory University Department of Emergency Medicine assistant professor Jeremy Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D., and Georgia Tech Regents’ professor of mechanical engineering David Ku, M.D., Ph.D., are working with Forest on this project, which is supported by the American Heart Association.
Detecting and Treating Atherosclerosis With a five-year, $14.6 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Georgia Tech and Emory University researchers are developing nanotechnology and biomolecular engineering tools and methodologies for detecting and treating atherosclerosis. The award supports the interdisciplinary Center for Translational Cardiovascular Nanomedicine, which is led by Gang Bao, Ph.D., the Robert A. Milton Chair in Biomedical Engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. Atherosclerosis typically occurs in branched or curved regions of arteries where plaques form because of cholesterol build-up. Inflammation can alter the structure of plaques so they become more likely to rupture, potentially causing a blood vessel blockage and leading to heart attack or stroke.
ose and treat heart problems - from advanced imaging techniques and guidance for drug earch accelerates the pace at which new heart-related discoveries are put to use in patients. Examining Heart Valve Leakage An estimated 1.6 million Americans suffer moderate to severe leakage through their tricuspid valve, a complex structure that closes off the heart’s right ventricle from the right atrium. If left untreated, severe leakage can affect an individual’s quality of life and can even lead to death. Research teams led by Ajit Yoganathan, Ph.D., Georgia Tech Regents’ professor and Wallace H. Coulter Distinguished Faculty Chair in Biomedical Engineering, have discovered causes for the tricuspid valve’s leakage and ways to predict the severity of leakage in the valve. These study results could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of the condition. A study published in the journal Circulation found that either dilating the tricuspid valve opening or displacing the papillary muscles that control its operation can cause the valve to leak. A combination of the two actions can increase the severity of the leakage, which is called tricuspid regurgitation. Standard clinical procedures that detail when and how tricuspid valve repairs should be performed need to be developed and this study suggests several items that should be considered in developing those protocols, according to the researchers. In another study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, researchers found that the anatomy of the heart’s tricuspid valve can be used to predict the severity of leakage in the valve. Using 3-D echocardiograms from 64 individuals who exhibited assorted grades of tricuspid leakage, the researchers found that pulmonary arterial pressure, the size of the valve opening and papillary muscle position measurements could be used to predict the severity of an individual’s tricuspid regurgitation.
Ajit Yoganathan, Ph.D., and researchers from Emory University, Children’s Hospital Boston and Mount Sinai Medical Center contributed to the two above studies published in the journal Circulation.
Research News Blood Testing Predicts Level of Enzymes that Facilitate Disease Progression Predicting how atherosclerosis, osteoporosis or cancer will progress or respond to drugs in individual patients is difficult. In a new study, researchers took another step toward that goal by developing a technique able to predict from a blood sample the amount of cathepsins—protein-degrading enzymes known to accelerate these diseases—a specific person would produce. This patient-specific information may be helpful in developing personalized approaches to treat these tissue-destructive diseases. “We measured significant variability in the amount of cathepsins produced by blood samples we collected from healthy individuals, which may indicate that a one-size-fits-all approach of administering cathepsin inhibitors may not be the best strategy for all patients with these conditions,” said Manu Platt, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The study was published in the journal Integrative Biology. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Georgia Cancer Coalition, Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and the Emory/Georgia Tech Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center.
Study Suggests Immune System Can Boost Regeneration of Peripheral Nerves Modulating immune response to injury could accelerate the regeneration of severed peripheral nerves, a new study in an animal model has found. By altering activity of the macrophage cells that respond to injuries, researchers dramatically increased the rate at which nerve processes regrew. Influencing the macrophages immediately after injury may affect the whole cascade of biochemical events that occurs after nerve damage, potentially eliminating the need to directly stimulate the growth of axons using nerve growth factors. If the results of this firstever study can be applied to humans, they could one day lead to a new strategy for treating peripheral nerve injuries that typically result from trauma, surgical resection of tumors or radical prostectomy. “Both scar formation and healing are the end results of two different cascades of biological processes that result from injuries,” said Ravi Bellamkonda, Ph.D., Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and member of the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “In this study, we show that by manipulating the immune system soon after injury, we can bias the system toward healing, and stimulate the natural repair mechanisms of the body.” Beyond nerves, researchers believe their technique could also be applied to help regenerate other tissue – such as bone. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and reported by the journal Biomaterials.
iPhone Attachment Designed for At-Home Diagnoses of Ear Infections A new pediatric medical device being tested by Georgia Tech and Emory University could make life easier for every parent who has rushed to the doctor with a child screaming from an ear infection. Soon, parents may be able to skip the doctor’s visit and receive a diagnosis without leaving home by using Remotoscope, a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an iPhone into an otoscope. Pediatricians currently diagnose ear infections using the standard otoscope to examine the eardrum. With Remotoscope, parents would be able to take a picture or video of their child’s eardrum using the iPhone and send the images digitally to a physician for diagnostic review. Wilbur Lam, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, along with his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, developed the device with plans to commercialize it. A clinical trial for the Remotoscope is currently under way at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to see if the device can obtain images of the same diagnostic quality as what a physician sees with a traditional otoscope. “Ultimately we think parents could receive a diagnosis at home and forgo the late-night trips to the emergency room,” said Lam, who is also a physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine. “It’s known that kids who get ear infections early in life are at risk for recurrent ear infections. It can be a very big deal and really affect their families’ quality of life.”
Low-Resistance Connections Facilitate Use of Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes for Interconnects Using a new method for precisely controlling the deposition of carbon, researchers have demonstrated a technique for connecting multiwalled carbon nanotubes to the metallic pads of integrated circuits without the high interface resistance produced by traditional fabrication techniques. Based on electron beam-induced deposition (EBID), the work is believed to be the first to connect multiple shells of a multi-walled carbon nanotube to metal terminals on a semiconducting substrate, which is relevant to integrated circuit fabrication. Using this three-dimensional fabrication technique, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed graphitic nanojoints on both ends of the multi-walled carbon nanotubes, which yielded a 10-fold decrease in resistivity in its connection to metal junctions. The technique could facilitate the integration of carbon nanotubes as interconnects in nextgeneration integrated circuits that use both silicon and carbon components. The research was supported by the Semiconductor Research Corporation, and in its early stages, by the National Science Foundation. The work was reported by the journal IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology. “For the first time, we have established connections to multiple shells of carbon nanotubes with a technique that is amenable to integration with conventional integrated circuit microfabrication processes,” said Andrei Fedorov, Ph.D., a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Connecting to multiple shells allows us to dramatically reduce the resistance and move to the next level of device performance.” Multi-walled carbon nanotubes offer the promise of higher information delivery throughput for certain interconnects used in electronic devices. Researchers have envisioned a future generation of hybrid devices based on traditional integrated circuits but using interconnects based on carbon nanotubes. Until now, however, resistance at the connections between the carbon structures and conventional silicon electronics has been too high to make the devices practical.
Andrei Fedorov demonstrates the electron beam induced deposition (EBID) system used to create graphitic nanojoints to multi-walled carbon nanotubes.
Research News Georgia Tech Develops Computational Algorithm to Assist in Cancer Treatments High-throughput DNA sequencing technologies are leading to a revolution in how clinicians diagnose and treat cancer. The molecular profiles of individual tumors are beginning to be used in the design of chemotherapeutic programs optimized for the treatment of individual patients. The real revolution, however, is coming with the emerging capability to inexpensively and accurately sequence the entire genome of cancers, allowing for the identification of specific mutations responsible for the disease in individual patients. There is only one downside. Those sequencing technologies provide massive amounts of data that are not easily processed and translated by scientists. That’s why Georgia Tech has created a new data analysis algorithm that quickly transforms complex RNA sequence data into usable content for biologists and clinicians. The RNA-Seq analysis pipeline (R-SAP) was developed by School of Biology professor John McDonald, Ph.D., and Bioinformatics candidate Vinay Mittal. Details of the pipeline are published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research. R-SAP is open source software, freely accessible at the McDonald Lab website. “A major bottleneck in the realization of the dream of personalized medicine is no longer technological. It’s computational,” said McDonald, director of Georgia Tech’s newly created Integrated Cancer Research Center. “R-SAP follows a hierarchical decision-making procedure to accurately characterize various classes of gene transcripts in cancer samples.” “This is another example of Georgia Tech’s ability to merge computer technology with science to create an essential feature of nextgeneration bioinformatics tools,” said McDonald. “We hope that R-SAP will be a useful and user-friendly instrument for scientists and clinicians in the field of cancer biology.”
Grant for Breast Cancer Therapy Research The National Science Foundation awarded Julie Champion, Ph.D., a research grant as part of its Biomaterials Program. Champion, assistant professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, will investigate engineering effector protein nanoclusters for breast cancer therapy with the grant, valued at $300,000. “Given that breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women and the second leading cause of cancer death, many people could benefit from the development of effector nanoclusters,” Champion says. “This work validates the idea of using bacterial proteins for therapeutic applications and the concept can be expanded for a variety of drug development and delivery needs for other diseases.” A select group of bacterial pathogens secrete proteins called effectors during infection, which enable them to survive and grow in a hostile host. Some of these effectors have the capability to interfere with the same pathways that are altered in breast cancer. “In order for these proteins to be used as anticancer drugs, the normal bacterial delivery mechanisms must be replaced by a drug delivery system able to deliver biologically active protein to breast cancer cells,” Champion said.
Julie Champion, Ph.D.
To engineer this modified drug delivery system, the effector proteins must be linked together into nano-sized clusters that can enter breast cancer cells and then fall apart to allow the individual proteins to act inside the cells. By fabricating effector nanoclusters, Champion will be able to access their ability to restore normal behaviors in breast cancer cells, such as increased apoptotic cell death, decreased proliferation, decreased metastasis, and increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutics.
Novel Compound Halts Tumor Spread and Improves Brain Cancer Treatment Treating invasive brain tumors with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation has improved clinical outcomes, but few patients survive longer than two years after diagnosis. The effectiveness of the treatment is limited by the tumor’s aggressive invasion of healthy brain tissue, which restricts chemotherapy access to the cancer cells and complicates surgical removal of the tumor. To address this challenge, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University have designed a new treatment approach that appears to halt the spread of cancer cells into normal brain tissue in animal models. The researchers treated animals possessing an invasive tumor with a vesicle carrying a molecule called imipramine blue, followed by conventional doxorubicin chemotherapy. The tumors ceased their invasion of healthy tissue and the animals survived longer than animals treated with chemotherapy alone. “Our results show that imipramine blue stops tumor invasion into healthy tissue and enhances the efficacy of chemotherapy, which suggests that chemotherapy may be more effective when the target is stationary,” said Ravi Bellamkonda, Ph.D., a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “These results reveal a new strategy for treating brain cancer that could improve clinical outcomes.” The results of this work were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The research was supported primarily by the Ian’s Friends Foundation and partially by the Georgia Cancer Coalition, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship. In addition to Bellamkonda, collaborators on the project include Jack Arbiser, a professor in the Emory University Department of Dermatology; Daniel Brat, a professor in the Emory University Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; and the paper’s lead author, Jennifer Munson, a former Fulbright Scholar who was a bioengineering graduate student in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering when the research was conducted. Arbiser designed the novel imipramine blue compound, which is an organic triphenylmethane dye. After in vitro experiments showed that imipramine blue effectively inhibited movement of several cancer cell lines, the researchers tested the compound in an animal model of aggressive cancer that exhibited attributes similar to a human brain tumor called glioblastoma. For future studies, the researchers are planning to test imipramine blue’s effect on animal models with invasive brain tumors, metastatic tumors, and other types of cancer such as prostate and breast.
Georgia Tech Establishes a New Research Center Focused on Cancer Georgia Tech, which has had a long-standing history in cancer research, announces a new Integrated Cancer Research Center which will bring together 48 biologists, bioengineers, chemists and physicists from seven different schools and departments, to take new innovative approaches to basic cancer research. John McDonald, Ph.D., professor of biology in the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, will head the new center. “The mission of the Integrated Cancer Research Center is to facilitate integration of the diversity of technological, computational, scientific and medical expertise at Georgia Tech and partner institutions in a coordinated effort to develop improved cancer diagnostics and therapeutics,” McDonald explained. For years, the study of cancer has been concentrated at major medical research institutions and cancer research has been traditionally viewed as falling exclusively within the bailiwick of the biological sciences. This is now changing for the better, according to McDonald. “We are at a truly exciting crossroads in the history of cancer research where molecular biology, the computational sciences, engineering and nanotechnology are joining together in a unified effort to develop more effective cancer diagnostics and therapeutics,” added McDonald. New high-throughput methods to molecularly characterize cancer cells have, in recent years, lead to tremendous strides in the development of novel diagnostics and the identification of new molecular targets for therapeutic intervention. On the computational side, recently developed algorithms customized for the analysis of genomic, proteomic and other high volume datasets are providing a level of insight into cellular complexities never before imagined. The number of new technologies and devices arising from the fields of biomedical engineering and nanotechnology that have potential application to the area of cancer biology has tremendous promise.
Research News Unique Gel Capsule Structure Enables Multiple Drug Delivery Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a multiple-compartment gel capsule that could be used to simultaneously deliver drugs of different types. The researchers used a simple “one-pot” method to prepare the hydrogel capsules which measure less than one micron. The capsule’s structure -- hollow except for polymer chains tethered to the interior of the shell -- provides spatially-segregated compartments that make it a good candidate for multi-drug encapsulation and release strategies. The microcapsule could be used to simultaneously deliver distinct drugs by filling the core of the capsule with hydrophilic drugs and trapping hydrophobic drugs within nanoparticles assembled from the polymer chains. “We have demonstrated that we can make a fairly complex multi-component delivery vehicle using a relatively straightforward and scalable synthesis,” said L. Andrew Lyon, Ph.D., professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech. “Additional research will need to be conducted to determine how they would best be loaded, delivered and triggered to release the drugs.” Details of the microcapsule synthesis procedure were published in the journal Macromolecular Rapid Communications. Lyon and Xiaobo Hu, Ph.D., a former visiting scholar at Georgia Tech, created the microcapsules. As a graduate student at the Research Institute of Materials Science at the South China University of Technology, Hu is co-advised by Lyon and Zhen Tong of the South China University of Technology. Funding for this research was provided to Hu by the China Scholarship Council. The researchers began the two-step, one-pot synthesis procedure by forming core particles from a temperature-sensitive polymer called poly(N-isopropylacrylamide). To create a dissolvable core, they formed polymer chains from the particles without a cross-linking agent. This resulted in an aggregated collection of polymer chains with temperature-dependent stability. For the second step in the procedure, Lyon and Hu added a cross-linking agent to a polymer called poly(N-isopropylmethacrylamide) to create a shell around the aggregated polymer chains. The researchers conducted this step under conditions that would allow any coreassociated polymer chains that interacted with the shell during synthesis to undergo chain transfer and become grafted to the interior of the shell. Cooling the microcapsule exploited the temperature sensitivities of the polymers. The shell swelled with water and expanded to its stable size, while the free-floating polymer chains in the center of the capsule diffused out of the core, leaving behind an empty space. Any chains that stuck to the shell during its synthesis remained. Because the chains control the interaction between the particles they store and their surroundings, the tethered chains can act as hydrophobic drug carriers. Compared to delivering a single drug, co-delivery of multiple drugs has several potential advantages, including synergistic effects, suppressed drug resistance and the ability to tune the relative dosage of various drugs. The future optimization of these microcapsules may allow simultaneous delivery of distinct classes of drugs for the treatment of diseases like cancer, which is often treated using combination chemotherapy.
Startup Receives $4 Million to Develop Drug Delivery Targeted to the Back of the Eye Technology developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University for delivering drugs and other therapeutics to specific locations in the eye provides the foundation for a startup company that has received a $4 million venture capital investment. The Atlanta-based startup, Clearside Biomedical, plans to develop microinjection technology that will use hollow microneedles to precisely target therapeutics within the eye. If the technique proves successful in clinical trials and wins regulatory approval, it could provide an improved method for treating diseases that affect the back of the eye, including age-related macular degeneration. The technology was developed in collaboration between the research groups of Mark Prausnitz, a Regents’ professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Henry Edelhauser, a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Emory School of Medicine. Research leading to development of the technology was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “We expect that targeting drug delivery within the eye will be helpful because we should be able to concentrate drugs at the disease sites where they need to act, and keep them away from other locations,” said Prausnitz. “This could reduce side effects and possibly also decrease the dose required.” Prior to this development, drugs could be delivered to the retinal tissues at the back of the eye in three indirect ways: (1) injection by hypodermic needle into the eye’s vitreous humor, the gelatinous material that fills the eyeball, (2) eye drops, which are limited in their ability to reach the back of the eye, and (3) pills taken by mouth that expose the whole body to the drug. The technology developed by Georgia Tech and Emory uses a hollow micron-scale needle to inject therapeutics into the suprachoroidal space located between the outer surface of the eye -- known as the sclera -- and the choroid -- a deeper layer that provides nutrients to the rest of the eye. Preclinical research has demonstrated that fluid can flow between the two layers, where it can spread out to the entire eye, including structures such as the retina that are now difficult to reach. So far, the technique has been tested only in animals. The Hatteras funding will allow the company to conduct additional efficacy and safety testing needed to seek regulatory approval. The company’s first product is expected to address macular edema and retinal vein occlusion. Clearside was formed with the assistance of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab program, which helped obtain early-stage seed funding from the Georgia Research Alliance. Georgia Tech VentureLab also helped the founders connect with the company’s president and CEO, Daniel White, a veteran ophthalmic entrepreneur. Before joining Clearside, White was a co-founder of Alimera Sciences, an Atlanta company that is developing ophthalmic pharmaceuticals.
Research News Study Shows Scientists Have Trouble Accessing Human Embryonic Stem Cells The promise of stem cell research for drug discovery and cell-based therapies depends on the ability of scientists to acquire stem cell lines for their research. A survey of more than 200 human embryonic stem cell researchers in the United States found that nearly four in ten researchers have faced excessive delay in acquiring a human embryonic stem cell line and that more than one-quarter were unable to acquire a line they wanted to study. “The survey results provide empirical data to support previously anecdotal concerns that delays in acquiring or an inability to acquire certain human embryonic stem cell lines may be hindering stem cell science in the United States,” said Aaron Levine, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Results of the survey were published in the December issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. Funding for the study was provided by the Kauffman Foundation’s Roadmap for an Entrepreneurial Economy Program. Levine administered the web-based survey in November 2010 to more than 1,400 stem cell scientists working at U.S. academic and non-profit medical research institutions. Almost 400 respondents from 32 states completed the survey. Of those, 205 respondents reported using human embryonic stem cells in their research, and their responses were used in this study. The surveyed scientists cited four main reasons for their problems accessing human embryonic stem cell lines: difficulty obtaining material transfer agreements, failure to acquire research approval from internal institutional oversight committees, cell line owners that were unwilling to share and federal policy considerations. “Bureaucratic challenges may be inevitable in this ethically contentious and politically sensitive field, but policymakers should attempt to mitigate these issues by doing things like encouraging institutions to accept third-party ownership verification and providing clearer guidance on human embryonic stem cell research not eligible for federal funding,” said Levine, who is also a member of the Georgia Tech Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. The broad patents assigned to the initial inventors of the method used to isolate embryonic stem cells and numerous narrower patents claiming specific human embryonic stem cell-related techniques are also factors complicating access to human embryonic stem cell lines, according to Levine. When survey respondents were asked how many of the more than 1,000 existing human embryonic stem cell lines they used, 76 percent reported using three or fewer lines and 54 percent reported using two or fewer lines in their research. More than half of the 130 respondents cited access issues as a major reason they chose to use specific cell lines in their research. “These results illustrate that many human embryonic stem cell scientists in the United States are not conducting comparative studies with a diverse set of human embryonic stem cell lines, which raises concern that at least some results are cell-line specific rather than broadly applicable,” said Levine. “Federal and state funding agencies may want to consider encouraging research using multiple diverse human embryonic stem cell lines to improve the reliability of research results.” Embryonic stem cell lines are being used to develop new cellular therapies for various diseases, to screen for new drugs and to better understand inherited diseases. It’s crucial that diverse lines are available for this research to ensure that all individuals benefit from the results. While availability was cited as the most common factor affecting scientists’ choices regarding which cell lines to use, other considerations included suitability for a specific project, familiarity with specific lines, a desire to reduce complications in the laboratory, cost, the extent of relevant literature and the preferences of scientists’ colleagues. Three of the initial human embryonic stem cell lines derived at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1990s were the lines most commonly used by respondents. Cell lines H1, H9 and H7 were used by 79, 68 and 26 percent of respondents, respectively. Scientists also reported using more than 100 other lines, but each of these was used by fewer than 12 percent of respondents. “Other research communities in the life sciences have experienced material access problems and they addressed them, in part, by creating centralized information and data sharing hubs, including public DNA sequence databases, tissue banks and mouse repositories. The stem cell research community has taken promising steps in this direction, but this analysis should encourage the community to continue and, if possible, accelerate these efforts,” added Levine.
Scientists Turn Back the Clock on Adult Stem Cells Aging Researchers have shown they can reverse the aging process for human adult stem cells, which are responsible for helping old or damaged tissues regenerate. The findings could lead to medical treatments that may repair a host of ailments that occur because of tissue damage as people age. A research group led by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the Georgia Institute of Technology conducted the study in cell culture, which appeared in the journal Cell Cycle. The regenerative power of tissues and organs declines as we age. The modern day stem cell hypothesis of aging suggests that living organisms are as old as are its tissue specific or adult stem cells. Therefore, an understanding of the molecules and processes that enable human adult stem cells to initiate self-renewal and to divide, proliferate and then differentiate in order to rejuvenate damaged tissue might be the key to regenerative medicine and an eventual cure for many age-related diseases. A research group led by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology, conducted the study that pinpoints what is going wrong with the biological clock underlying the limited division of human adult stem cells as they age. Adult stem cells are important because they help keep human tissues healthy by replacing cells that have gotten old or damaged. They’re also multipotent, which means that an adult stem cell can grow and replace any number of body cells in the tissue or organ they belong to. However, just as the cells in the liver, or any other organ, can get damaged over time, adult stem cells undergo agerelated damage. And when this happens, the body can’t replace damaged tissue as well as it once could, leading to a host of diseases and conditions. But if scientists can find a way to keep these adult stem cells young, they could possibly use these cells to repair damaged heart tissue after a heart attack; heal wounds; correct metabolic syndromes; produce insulin for patients with type 1 diabetes; cure arthritis and osteoporosis and regenerate bone. “We found the majority of DNA damage and associated chromatin changes that occurred with adult stem cell aging were due to parts of the genome known as retrotransposons,” said King Jordan, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. “Retroransposons were previously thought to be non-functional and were even labeled as ‘junk DNA’, but accumulating evidence indicates these elements play an important role in genome regulation,” he added. While the young adult stem cells were able to suppress transcriptional activity of these genomic elements and deal with the damage to the DNA, older adult stem cells were not able to scavenge this transcription. New discovery suggests that this event is deleterious for the regenerative ability of stem cells and triggers a process known as cellular senescence. Next the team plans to use further analysis to validate the extent to which the rejuvenated stem cells may be suitable for clinical tissue regenerative applications.
Successful Stem Cell Differentiation Requires DNA Compaction, Study Finds New research findings show that embryonic stem cells unable to fully compact the DNA inside them cannot complete their primary task: differentiation into specific cell types that give rise to the various types of tissues and structures in the body. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University found that chromatin compaction is required for proper embryonic stem cell differentiation to occur. Chromatin, which is composed of histone proteins and DNA, packages DNA into a smaller volume so that it fits inside a cell. A study published in the journal PLoS Genetics found that embryonic stem cells lacking several histone H1 subtypes and exhibiting reduced chromatin compaction suffered from impaired differentiation under multiple scenarios and demonstrated inefficiency in silencing genes that must be suppressed to induce differentiation. “While researchers have observed that embryonic stem cells exhibit a relaxed, open chromatin structure and differentiated cells exhibit a compact chromatin structure, our study is the first to show that this compaction is not a mere consequence of the differentiation process but is instead a necessity for differentiation to proceed normally,” said Yuhong Fan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Biology. Fan and Todd McDevitt, Ph.D., associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, led the study with assistance from Georgia Tech graduate students Yunzhe Zhang and Kaixiang Cao, research technician Marissa Cooke, and postdoctoral fellow Shiraj Panjwani.
Impaired embryoid body differentiation Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining of sections of wild-type (top row) and H1 triple-knockout (bottom row) embryoid bodies. After 14 days in rotary suspension culture, the wild-type embryoid bodies showed more differentiated morphologies with cysts forming (black arrows) and the knockout embryoid bodies failed to form cavities (far right).
The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the National Science Foundation, a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar Award, and a Johnson & Johnson/Georgia Tech Healthcare Innovation Award. In future work, the researchers plan to investigate whether controlling H1 histone levels can be used to influence the reprogramming of adult cells to obtain induced pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of differentiating into tissues in a way similar to embryonic stem cells. 39
Hold Your Forces: Mechanical Stress Can Help or Hinder Wound Healing Depending on Time of Application A new study demonstrates that mechanical forces affect the growth and remodeling of blood vessels during tissue regeneration and wound healing. The forces diminish or enhance the vascularization process and tissue regeneration depending on when they are applied during the healing process. The study found that applying mechanical forces to an injury site immediately after healing began disrupted vascular growth into the site and prevented bone healing. However, applying mechanical forces later in the healing process enhanced functional bone regeneration. The study’s findings could influence treatment of tissue injuries and recommendations for rehabilitation. “Our finding that mechanical stresses caused by movement can disrupt the initial formation and growth of new blood vessels supports the advice doctors have been giving their patients for years to limit activity early in the healing process,” said Robert Guldberg, Ph.D., professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “However, our findings also suggest applying mechanical stresses to the wound later on can significantly improve healing through a process called adaptive remodeling.” The study was published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the U.S. Department of Defense. Because blood vessel growth is required for the regeneration of many different tissues, including bone, Guldberg and former Georgia Tech graduate student Joel Boerckel, Ph.D., used healing of a bone defect in rats for their study. Following removal of eight millimeters of femur bone, they treated the gap with a polymer scaffold seeded with a growth factor called recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein-2 (rhBMP-2), a potent inducer of bone regeneration. The scaffold was designed in collaboration with Nathaniel Huebsch and David Mooney, Ph.D., from Harvard University. “We found that having a very stable environment initially is very important because mechanical stresses applied early on disrupted very small vessels that were forming,” said Guldberg, who is also the director of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech. “If you wait until those vessels have grown in and they’re a little more mature, applying a mechanical stimulus then induces remodeling so that you end up with a more robust vascular network.” The study’s results may help researchers optimize the mechanical properties of tissue regeneration scaffolds in the future. “Our study shows that one might want to implant a material that is stiff at the very beginning to stabilize the injury site but becomes more compliant with time, to improve vascularization and tissue regeneration,” added Guldberg. Georgia Tech mechanical engineering graduate student Brent Uhrig and postdoctoral fellow Nick Willett, Ph.D., also contributed to this research.
Micro-computed tomography reconstructions of bone formation (left) when the injury site experienced no mechanical force for seven weeks and (right) when mechanical forces were exerted on the injury site beginning after four weeks for a duration of three weeks. Study results showed that bone formation improved by 20 percent with delayed loading compared to when no force was applied, and strong tissue biomaterial integration was evident.
Robert E. Guldberg, Ph.D. 40
New Molecular Probes Can Identify Strain-induced Changes in Fibronectin Protein That May Lead to Disease Fibronectin plays a major role in wound healing and embryonic development. The protein, which is located in the extracellular matrix of cells, has also been linked to pathological conditions including cancer and fibrosis. During physiological processes, fibronectin fibers are believed to experience mechanical forces that strain the fibers and cause dramatic structural modifications that change their biological activity. While understanding the role of fibronectin strain events in development and disease progression is becoming increasingly important, detecting and interrogating these events is difficult. In a new study, researchers identified molecular probes capable of selectively attaching to fibronectin fibers under different strain states, enabling the detection and examination of fibronectin strain events in both culture and living tissues. “The mechano-sensitive molecular probes we identified allow us to dynamically examine the relevance of mechanical strain events within the natural cellular microenvironment and correlate these events with specific alterations in fibronectin associated with the progression of disease,” said Thomas Barker, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Barker worked on the study with Georgia Tech graduate student Lizhi Cao and Harry Bermudez, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Department of Polymer Science and Engineering. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health. “The molecular probes we identified can be used to map molecular strain events in native extracellular matrix and living lung tissues,” explained Barker. “The probes can also be used to study the mechanism by which cells control the mechanical forces that alter fibronectin’s conformation, control the exposure of its binding sites and regulate cell signaling.” The researchers used a controlled fibronectin fiber deposition and extension technique to apply tension to the fibers and stretch them to 2.6 times their original length without significant breakage. Then they used a technique called phage display to identify peptides capable of discriminating fibronectin fibers under relaxed and strained conditions. The molecular probes displaying peptide sequences LNLPHG and RFSAFY showed the greatest binding affinity to fibronectin fibers and the greatest efficiency in discriminating between relaxed and strained fibers. “This study strongly suggests that fibronectin fibers under strain display markedly different biochemical signatures that can be used for the molecular-level detection of fibronectin fiber strain,” explained Barker. “The data also show the potential for living tissue to be interrogated for mechano-chemical alterations that lead to physiological and pathological progression.” In the future, the researchers hope to use these fibronectin strain-sensitive probes to target therapeutics to fibronectin fibers based on their mechanical signature.
Molecular probes displaying the LNLPHG and RFSAFY peptide sequences showed the greatest binding affinity to fibronectin fibers and the greatest efficiency in discriminating between relaxed and strained fibers. On extracellular matrix assembled by primary lung fibroblasts, LNLPHG preferentially attached to relaxed fibronectin fibers, whereas RFSAFY bound to strained fibers. (Scale bar: 20 microns)
Thomas H. Barker, Ph.D. 41
RESEA Mosquitoes Fly in Rain Thanks to Low Mass
The mosquito is possibly summer’s biggest nuisance. Sprays, pesticides, citronella candles, bug zappers — nothing seems to totally deter the blood-sucking insect. And neither can rain apparently. Even though a single raindrop can weigh 50 times more than a mosquito, the insect is still able to fly through a downpour.
Georgia Tech researchers used high-speed videography to determine how this is possible. They found the mosquito’s strong exoskeleton and low mass render it impervious to falling raindrops. The research team, led by assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biology David Hu, Ph.D., and his doctoral fellow Andrew Dickerson,Ph.D., found that mosquitoes receive low impact forces from raindrops because the mass of mosquitoes causes raindrops to lose little momentum upon impact. The results of the research appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. What the researchers learned about mosquito flight could be used to enhance the design and features of micro-airborne vehicles, which are increasingly being used by law enforcement and the military in surveillance and search-and-rescue operations.
Researchers Show How New Viruses Evolve, and in Some Cases, Become Deadly In the current issue of the journal Science, researchers at Michigan State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin demonstrate how a new virus evolves, which sheds light on how easy it can be for diseases to gain dangerous mutations. The scientists showed for the first time how the virus called “Lambda” evolved to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took four mutations to accomplish. This virus infects bacteria, in particular the common E. coli bacterium. Lambda isn’t dangerous to humans, but this research demonstrated how viruses evolve complex and potentially deadly new traits. This paper comes on the heels of news that scientists in the U.S. and the Netherlands produced a deadly version of bird flu. Even though bird flu is a mere five mutations away from becoming transmissible between humans, it’s highly unlikely the virus could naturally obtain all of the beneficial mutations all at once. However, it might evolve sequentially, gaining benefits one-by-one, if conditions are favorable at each step, he added. Through research conducted at BEACON, MSU’s National Science Foundation Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Meyer and his colleagues’ ability to duplicate the results implied that adaptation by natural selection, or survival of the fittest, had an important role in the virus’ evolution. When the genomes of the adaptable virus were sequenced, they always had four mutations in common. “The parallelism shown in the evolutionary history of adaptable viruses was striking and was far beyond what is expected by chance,” noted paper co-author Joshua Weitz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. In contrast, the viruses that didn’t evolve the new way of entering cells had some of the four mutations but never all four together, said Meyer, who holds the Barnett Rosenberg Fellowship in MSU’s College of Natural Science. 42
ARCH Fast-Evolving Genes Control Developmental Differences in Social Insects
Genes essential to producing the developmental differences displayed by social insects evolve more rapidly than genes governing other aspects of organismal function, a new study has found. All species of life are able to develop in different ways by varying the genes they express, ultimately becoming different shapes, sizes, colors and sexes. This plasticity permits organisms to operate successfully in their environments. A new study of the genomes of social insects provides insight into the evolution of the genes involved in this developmental plasticity. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, showed that genes involved in creating different sexes, life stages and castes of fire ants and honeybees evolved more rapidly than genes not involved in these developmental processes. The researchers also found that these fast-evolving genes exhibited elevated rates of evolution even before they were recruited to produce diverse forms of an organism. “This was a totally unexpected finding because most theory suggested that genes involved in producing diverse forms of an organism would evolve rapidly specifically because they generated developmental differences,” said Michael Goodisman, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. “Instead, this study suggests that fast-evolving genes are actually predisposed to generating new developmental forms.” The project was an international collaboration between Goodisman, associate professor Soojin Yi, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellow Brendan Hunt, Ph.D., from the Georgia Tech’s School of Biology, and professor Laurent Keller, Ph.D., research scientist DeWayne Shoemaker, and postdoctoral fellows Lino Ometto, Ph.D., and Yannick Wurm, Ph.D., from the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne. Social insects exhibit a sophisticated social structure in which queens reproduce and workers engage in tasks related to brood-rearing and colony defense. By investigating the evolution of genes associated with castes, sexes and developmental stages of the invasive fire ant Solenopsis invicta, the researchers explored how social insects produce such a diversity of form and function from genetically similar individuals. “This is one the most comprehensive studies of the evolution of genes involved in producing developmental differences,” Goodisman noted. This study helps explain the fundamental evolutionary processes that allow organisms to develop different adaptive forms. Future research will include determining what these fast-evolving genes do and how they’re involved in the production of different sexes, life stages and castes, said Goodisman.
Fire ant castes, sexes and life stages.
The results of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and this research was supported by the National Science Foundation.
Research News Cell Contents May be Key to Controlling Toxicity of Huntington’s Disease Protein New research into the cell-damaging effects of Huntington’s disease suggests a new approach for identifying possible therapeutic targets for treating the nerve-destroying disorder. Huntington’s disease causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and affects an individual’s movement, cognition and mental state. Genetically, the disease is associated with a mutation in the Huntingtin gene that causes the huntingtin protein to be produced with an extended region containing the amino acid glutamine. The mechanisms that control the severity and onset of the disease are poorly understood, as individuals with the same amount of expansion in their huntingtin proteins experience differences in toxicity and onset of the disease. A new study led by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers suggests that the toxic effects of the huntingtin protein on cells may not be driven exclusively by the length of the protein’s expansion, but also by which other proteins are present in the cell. The researchers placed human huntingtin protein with an expanded region, called a polyglutamine tract, into yeast cells and found toxicity differences that were based on the other protein aggregates -- called prions -- present in the cells. “This study clarifies genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that modulate polyglutamine’s toxicity on cells and establishes a new approach for identifying potential therapeutic targets through characterization of pre-existing proteins in the cell,” said Yury Chernoff, a professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. “While this study was conducted in yeast, it is possible that there are differences in aggregated proteins present in human cells as well, which are causing variation in huntingtin toxicity among individuals.” The results of the study were published the journal PLoS Genetics. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Hereditary Disease Foundation. Also contributing to this research were former Georgia Tech graduate student He Gong and postdoctoral fellow Nina Romanova, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine research assistant professor Piotr Mieczkowski, and Boston University School of Medicine professor Michael Sherman. Expanded huntingtin forms clumps in human cells that are typically transported and stored in an internal compartment called an aggresome until they can be removed from the body. While the compartment is thought to protect the contents of the cell from the toxic contents inside the aggresome, the current study shows that huntingtin molecules inside an aggresome can still be toxic to the cell. In the study, aggresome formation in the cells containing the prion form of the Rnq1 protein reduced the toxicity of the huntingtin protein in Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast cells, whereas the huntingtin protein’s toxicity remained in the presence of the prion form of translation release factor Sup35. “It remains uncertain whether the toxicity was primarily driven by sequestration of Sup35 into the aggresome or by its sequestration into the smaller huntingtin protein aggregates that remained in the cytoplasm,” explained Chernoff, who is also director of the Center for Nanobiology of the Macromolecular Assembly Disorders (NanoMAD). “While Sup35 was detected in the aggresome, we don’t know if the functional fraction of Sup35 was sequestered there.” In a follow-on experiment, the researchers increased the level of another release factor, Sup45, in the presence of Sup35 and found that this combination counteracted the toxicity. “While the Rnq1 and Sup35 prions did not cause significant toxicity on their own, the results show that prion composition in the cell drove toxicity,” noted Chernoff. “Prions modulated which proteins were sequestered by the aggresome, as proteins associated with the pre-existing prions were more likely to be sequestered, such as Sup45 because of its association with Sup35.” It remains unknown if polyglutamines can sequester the human versions of the Sup35 and Sup45 release factors, but this study shows the possibility that organisms may differ by the protein composition in their cells, and this in turn may influence their susceptibility to polyglutamine disorders such as Huntington’s disease.
Focus on Glaucoma Origins Continues Path Toward Potential Cure Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. Nearly 4 million Americans have the disorder, which affects 70 million worldwide. There is no cure and no early symptoms. Once vision is lost, it’s permanent. New findings at Georgia Tech explore one of the many molecular origins of glaucoma and advance research dedicated to fighting the disease. Glaucoma is typically triggered when fluid is unable to circulate freely through the eye’s trabecular meshwork (TM) tissue. Intraocular pressure rises and damages the retina and optic nerve, which causes vision loss. In certain cases of glaucoma, this blockage results from a build-up of the protein myocilin. Georgia Tech Chemistry and Biochemistry assistant professor Raquel Lieberman, Ph.D., focused on examining the structural properties of these myocilin deposits. “We were surprised to discover that both genetically defected as well as normal, or wild-type (WT), myocilin are readily triggered to produce very stable fibrous residue containing a pathogenic material called amyloid,” said Lieberman, whose work was published in the most recent Journal of Molecular Biology. Amyloid formation, in which a protein is converted from its normal form into fibers, is recognized as a major contributor to numerous non-ocular disorders, including Alzheimer’s, certain forms of diabetes and Mad Cow disease (in cattle). Scientists are currently studying ways to destroy amyloid fibrils as an option for treating these diseases. Further research, based on Lieberman’s findings, could potentially result in drugs that prevent or stop myocilin amyloid formation or destroy existing fibrils in glaucoma patients. Until this point, amyloids linked to glaucoma had been restricted to the retinal area. In those cases, amyloids kill retina cells, leading to vision loss, but don’t affect intraocular pressure. “The amyloid-containing myocilin deposits we discovered kill cells that maintain the integrity of TM tissue,” said Lieberman. “In addition to debris from dead cells, the fibrils themselves may also form an obstruction in the TM tissue. Together, these mechanisms may hasten the increase of intraocular pressure that impairs vision.” Together with her research team, Lieberman produced WT and genetically defected myocilin variants that had been documented in patients who develop glaucoma in childhood or early adulthood. The experiments were conducted in collaboration with Georgia Tech Biology professor Ingeborg Schmidt-Krey, Ph.D., and Stanford Genetics Professor Douglas Vollrath, Ph.D.
Study Shows How a Hopping Robot Could Conserve its Energy A new study shows that jumping can be much more complicated than it might seem. In research that could extend the range of future rescue and exploration robots, scientists have found that hopping robots could dramatically reduce their power demands by adopting a unique two-part “stutter jump.” Taking a short hop before a big jump could allow spring-based “pogo-stick” robots to reduce their power demands as much as ten-fold. The formula for the two-part jump was discovered by analyzing nearly 20,000 jumps made by a simple laboratory robot under a wide range of conditions. “If we time things right, the robot can jump with a tenth of the power required to jump to the same height under other conditions,” said Daniel Goldman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “In the stutter jumps, we can move the mass at a lower frequency to get off the ground. We achieve the same takeoff velocity as a conventional jump, but it is developed over a longer period of time with much less power.” The research was reported October 26 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The work was supported by the Army Research Laboratory’s MAST program, the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the GEM Fellowship. Jumping is an important means of locomotion for animals, and could be important to future generations of robots. Jumping has been extensively studied in biological organisms, which use stretched tendons to store energy. The researchers expected to find that the optimal jumping frequency would be related to the resonant frequency of the spring and mass system, but that turned out not to be true. Detailed evaluation of the jumps showed that frequencies above and below the resonance provided optimal jumping – and additional analysis revealed what the researchers called the “stutter jump.” “The preparatory hop allows the robot to time things such that it can use a lower power to get to the same jump height,” Goldman explained. “You really don’t have to move the mass rapidly to get a good jump.” The amount of energy that can be stored in batteries can limit the range and duration of robotic missions, so the stutter jump could be helpful for small robots that have limited power. Optimizing the efficiency of jumping could therefore allow the robots to complete longer and more complex missions.
Automated Worm Sorter Detects Subtle Differences in Genetic Research Research into the genetic factors behind certain disease mechanisms, illness progression and response to new drugs is frequently carried out using tiny multi-cellular animals such as nematodes, fruit flies or zebra fish. Often, progress relies on the microscopic visual examination of many individual animals to detect mutants worthy of further study. Now, scientists have demonstrated an automated system that uses artificial intelligence and cutting-edge image processing to rapidly examine large numbers of individual Caenorhabditis elegans, a species of nematode widely used in biological research. Beyond replacing existing manual examination steps using microfluidics and automated hardware, the system’s ability to detect subtle differences from worm-to-worm – without human intervention – can identify genetic mutations that might not have been detected otherwise. By allowing thousands of worms to be examined autonomously in a fraction of the time required for conventional manual screening, the technique could change the way that high throughput genetic screening is carried out using Caenorhabditis elegans. Details of the research were reported in the journal Nature Methods. The research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Hang Lu, Ph.D., associate professor in the school of chemical and biomolecular engineering, research team is studying genes that affect the formation and development of synapses in the worms, work that could have implications for understanding human brain development. The researchers use a model in which synapses of specific neurons are labeled by a fluorescent protein. Their research involves creating mutations in the genomes of thousands of worms and examining the resulting changes in the synapses. Mutant worms identified in this way are studied further to help understand what genes may have caused the changes in the synapses.
Scientists Study the Catalytic Reactions Used by Plants to Split Oxygen from Water Splitting hydrogen and oxygen from water using conventional electrolysis techniques requires considerable amounts of electrical energy. But green plants produce oxygen from water efficiently using a catalytic technique powered by sunlight – a process that is part of photosynthesis and so effective that it is the Earth’s major source of oxygen. If mimicked by artificial systems, this photocatalytic process could provide abundant new supplies of oxygen and, possibly hydrogen, as a by-product of producing electricity. However, despite its importance to the survival of the planet, scientists don’t fully understand the complex process plants use to harness the sun’s energy. A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences moves scientists closer to that understanding by showing the importance of a hydrogen bonding water network in that portion of the photosynthetic machinery known as photosystem II. Using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) on photosystem II extracted from ordinary spinach, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology tested the idea that a network of hydrogen-bonded water molecules plays a catalytic role in the process that produces oxygen. “By substituting ammonia, an analog of the water molecule that has a similar structure, we were able to show that the network of hydrogen-bonded water molecules is important to the catalytic process,” said Bridgette Barry, Ph.D., professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences. “Substituting ammonia for water inhibited the activity of the photosystem and disrupted the network. The network could be reestablished by addition of a simple sugar, trehalose.” Beyond the importance of understanding the photosynthetic process, the work could lead to new techniques for producing hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight. One possibility would be to add a biomimetic photocatalytic process to a photovoltaic system producing electricity from the sun.
Giving Ancient Life Another Chance to Evolve It’s a project 500 million years in the making. Only this time, instead of playing on a movie screen in Jurassic Park, it’s happening in a lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Using a process called paleo-experimental evolution, Georgia Tech researchers have resurrected a 500-million-year-old gene from bacteria and inserted it into modern-day Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. This bacterium has now been growing for more than 1,000 generations, giving the scientists a front row seat to observe evolution in action. “This is as close as we can get to rewinding and replaying the molecular tape of life,” said scientist Betül Kacar, a NASA astrobiology postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech’s NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution. “The ability to observe an ancient gene in a modern organism as it evolves within a modern cell allows us to see whether the evolutionary trajectory once taken will repeat itself or whether a life will adapt following a different path.” In 2008, Kacar’s postdoctoral advisor, associate professor of Biology Eric Gaucher, Ph.D., successfully determined the ancient genetic sequence of Elongation Factor-Tu (EF-Tu), an essential protein in E. coli. EFs are one of the most abundant proteins in bacteria, found in all known cellular life and required for bacteria to survive. That vital role made it a perfect protein for the scientists to answer questions about evolution.
Study Identifies Genes Associated with Genomic Expansions that Cause Disease A study of more than 6,000 genes in a common species of yeast has identified the pathways that govern the instability of GAA/TTC repeats. In humans, the expansions of these repeats is known to inactivate a gene – FXN – which leads to Friedreich’s ataxia, a neurodegenerative disease that is currently incurable. In yeast, long repeats also destabilize the genome, manifested by the breakage of chromosomes. Working with collaborators at Tufts University, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology identified genetic deficiencies associated with the instability of the repeats in four different classes of genes that control replication, transcription initiation, checkpoint response and telomere maintenance. They were surprised to find that the GAA/TTC repeats could promote gene expression in yeast, suggesting that the repeats may play both positive and negative roles in cells. While the study examined the repeat metabolisms in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the researchers believe their discoveries may have implications for human disease because many components of genetic machinery have been conserved in evolution. The study was reported the journal Molecular Cell. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The expansions occur in GAA/TTC sequences located on the FXN gene that plays a vital role in cell metabolism. Patients with Friedreich’s ataxia can have as many as 1,700 copies of the nucleotide sequence, compared to fewer than 65 copies in individuals without the genetic expansion. Although not yet observed in humans, in yeast, the expanded repeats can cause chromosomal fragility, which – despite cellular repair mechanisms – can produce errors resulting in dramatic genomic rearrangements. “How these expansions happen is a very mysterious process, and we do not know why some people get the disease and some people do not,” said Kirill Lobachev, Ph.D., associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology. “We are trying to develop a simplistic way to determine what individuals may be predisposed to the disease and to find the genotypes where these expansions occur with great frequency.”
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