Drezek wins Beckman Young Investigator Award

03/31/05

Rice bioengineer one of just 20 to win prestigious national honor

HOUSTON, April 1, 2005 -- The Beckman Foundation has awarded Rebekah Drezek a 2005 Beckman Young Investigator Award. The Beckman Young Investigators' program supports the work of the nation's most promising young researchers in the chemical and life sciences. Only 20 of the awards are given each year.

Drezek, the Stanley C. Moore Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, conducts translational biomedical research at the interface between nanobiotechnology and biophotonics. In particular, her laboratory is developing new imaging technologies for improved detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer.

"Dr. Drezek is an extremely talented and creative scientist, and I am pleased that she has been recognized by the Beckman Foundation," said Jennifer West, director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. "The discretionary money that accompanies a prestigious award like the Beckman Young Investigator Program is extremely important for young faculty who are establishing research programs. But awards of this caliber provide more than just money, they also validate new ideas and serve as a stamp of approval for senior colleagues both within and outside Rice."

Drezek's award comes with a three-year $264,000 grant.

"Beckman awards provide unusually flexible research support because the foundation does not require a budget at the time of proposal submission," said Drezek. Her Beckman research will focus on development of novel optical molecular imaging technologies for the early detection of cancer. The optical imaging methods she is developing use a combination of visible and near infrared (NIR) light and targeted nanoparticle contrast agents. The project includes development of imaging instrumentation and fiber optic probes, optical contrast agents and the software needed for real-time image analysis. Rather than focusing on a single molecular marker of cancer, the project is unique in its attempt to noninvasively collect and analyze extremely detailed information quantifying about a broad spectrum of structural and biochemical features of neoplastic cells.

"Today, it would take a battery of tests, including invasive procedures like biopsies, to gather the information that we hope to collect and analyze in a single optical measurement," Drezek said. "We want to make this technology compact and inexpensive enough for use in hospitals, clinics and practioners' offices."

Drezek is the third Rice faculty member to receive the Beckman Young Investigator award while at Rice. Previous winners are Vicki Colvin, professor of chemistry and of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Jason Hafner, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and of chemistry.

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