BioNIUM Research Awards Fund Collaborative Projects Across Different Fields

Fulfilling its mission to foster collaboration across different disciplines, the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami (BioNIUM) has awarded three Pilot Research Awards through the BioNIUM Pilot Funding Program, the first such awards aimed at providing seed money to fund initial research.

With the same goal in mind, BioNIUM and the UM College of Engineering, in conjunction with Florida International University’s College of Engineering and Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, have established a Collaborative Research Exchange Forum (CREF) in nanotechnology that gave four awards in nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology.

Each of the BioNIUM Pilot Research Awardees receives $30,000 for their projects. CREF Awardees receive $50,000 total, provided by the University of Miami and Florida International University equally.

“This type of cross collaboration between disciplines is exactly what we had in mind when we created BioNIUM,” said Richard J. Cote, M.D., Professor and Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Chair of the Department of Pathology and Director of BioNIUM. “It’s exciting and rewarding to see physicians, engineers and researchers from across UM and FIU working toward better solutions in a variety of arenas.”

Ashutosh Agarwal, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering and pathology, is the principal investigator of “Human Physiomimetic Cancer Microsystem,” which received a Pilot Award, with co-investigators Carmen Gomez-Fernandez, M.D., professor of pathology and Director of Breast and ENT Pathology Services, and Merce Jorda, M.D., Ph.D., professor and Vice Chair of Pathology and Director of the Genitourinary Pathology Services. With conventional cell culture systems resulting in high costs and time-consuming processes, the team will work to engineer high-end devices that will allow researchers to mimic and monitor disease conditions such as cancer with multiple cell lines.

The second BioNIUM Pilot Award went to Sung Jin Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and pathology, with co-investigator David M. Andrews, M.D., associate professor of pathology, for their “Multifunction Hemostasis Analyzer.” The two researchers propose developing a sensitive and cost-effective multifunctional device that would provide a quick and comprehensive assessment of a patient’s bleeding risk profile, eliminating the delays and sample degradation in methods currently used.

Vincent Moy, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics, is principal investigator of the third BioNIUM Pilot Award, for “Nanofabrication of Artificial Membranes to Investigate Antigen Internalization in B Cells.” Working with co-investigators Izidore Lossos, M.D., professor of medicine, and Emrah Celik, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the team will use nanofabrication techniques to produce and characterize artificial membranes to study B cells in germinal center lymphoma.

The CREF Pilot Program at UM is jointly sponsored by the College of Engineering — under the leadership of Dean James Tien, Ph.D., and professor and Associate Dean for Research Helena Solo-Gabriele, Ph.D. — and BioNIUM, under the leadership of Cote, Ram H. Datar, M.Phil., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and Co-Director of BioNIUM, and Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., M.S., Professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Associate Director of BioNIUM.

BioNIUM Pilot Award winner Agarwal also received a CREF Award for his collaboration with Shekhar Bhansali, Ph.D., Alcatel-Lucent Professor and Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU. The two propose using microscale cardiac tissue engineering to create cellular microenvironments that mimic healthy and diseased tissue in the hopes of reducing cardiotoxicity in their project, “Fluidic NEMS Based Heart on a Chip.”

“Self-Charging Medical Device Power Source” is the work of Leonidas G. Bachas, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UM, and co-investigators Sapna Deo, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Daunert, and Chunlei Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at FIU. To meet the growing need for self-sustainable mechanisms in implantable medical devices and chemical and biomolecular sensors, the team proposes using enzymatic biofuel cells to generate energy.

The worldwide push from fossil fuel toward more renewable energy based systems is the impetus for “Solar Hydrogen Cell via Novel Nano Materials,” led by UM’s Kim, and Zhe Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at FIU. They plan to use nanotechnology to develop a low-cost, high-efficiency solar cell.

The fourth CREF Award went to Dileep Yavagal, M.D., associate professor of neurology, for “Intra-Arterial Delivery of BDNF Bound Magnetic Nano Carriers for the Treatment of Stroke,” with co-investigators Ami Raval, Ph.D., research assistant professor of neurology, Madhavan Nair, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Immunology, and Director of the Institute of Neuro-Immune Pharmacology at the FIU College of Medicine, and Sudheesh Pilakka-Kanthikeel, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology at the FIU College of Medicine. Using magneto-electric nanoparticles to encapsulate new drugs, the team hopes to break the blood-brain barrier that blocks may potential clot-busting stroke therapies, ultimately improving neurological and motor functions.

The start date for all the one-year awards is September 1. Administrative support was provided by Teresa Brown, M.B.A., of BioNIUM, and Patricia Avissar, research navigator with the University of Miami’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

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