Rice engineer wins prestigious Annunzio Award

10/11/04

Jennifer West honored for advances in nanotechnology, tissue engineering

HOUSTON, Oct. 11, 2004 -- The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation today named Rice University bioengineer Jennifer West as the 2004 Frank Annunzio Award Columbus Scholar. One of the nation's most prestigious and competitive honors, the Annunzio Award includes a $50,000 prize.

West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and Professor of Chemical Engineering, is internationally recognized for cutting-edge research in two of bioengineering's most competitive fields -- nanotechnology and tissue engineering. West will receive the award at a gala this evening in Washington, D.C.

"This award places Jennifer West squarely within the nation's scientific elite," said Rice President David Leebron. "Her research -- especially her use of revolutionary technologies in the treatment of disease --holds extraordinary promise to improve the health and well being of us all."

Past winners of the Annunzio Award, the foundation's highest honor, include Dr. James Thomson, the first researcher to isolate and culture embryonic stem cells; Nobel laureate Dr. James Cobey, an active leader in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; influential architect Michael Graves, who designed several buildings on the Rice campus; and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a pioneer in the study of AIDS and HIV.

"Considering the achievements of past Annunzio Award winners is both awe-inspiring and humbling," said West. "Their broad-ranging efforts toward the betterment of mankind are inspiring, and I am deeply honored to join them."

West's research in biomaterials and tissue engineering focuses on the synthesis, development and application of novel biofunctional materials. In one project, her group is creating new materials for small-diameter vascular grafts that could eliminate the need for doctors to use veins from a patient's leg for heart bypass surgery.

West is developing techniques to use a patient's own cells to grow replacement blood vessels in the lab -- blood vessels that can be used in procedures like coronary artery bypass grafting for patients with advanced heart disease. To achieve this, she is synthesizing so-called scaffold materials, novel new materials that mimic extracellular matrix and provide a structure for the growth of replacement blood vessels.

To promote tissue growth, the scaffolds contain biochemicals that promote cell adhesion, control synthesis of matrix proteins, regulate cell growth and promote the breakdown of the scaffold as new tissue grows around it. Using the latest techniques in genetics and biotechnology, West is designing improved signaling schemes to increase the growth rates of cells seeded onto scaffolds and to make the grafts more resistant to recurrence of disease.

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is a federal government agency established to "encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind." Governed by a Presidential appointed Board of Trustees, the Foundation seeks to nurture and recognize pioneering individuals and programs that reflect the visionary spirit and pioneering heritage of Christopher Columbus.

The foundation was created by Congress in 1992 and endowed with funding from the sale of three denominations of limited-edition coins created by the U.S. Mint to mark the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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