Hamill Foundation funds innovation program at Rice


Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering makes four inaugural awards

HOUSTON, July 21, 2005 Rice University's Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) today announced the first grants awarded under its new Hamill Innovation Grant program. The program, which provides seed funding for collaborative, multidisciplinary research projects, is funded by a generous gift from the longtime IBB sponsor The Hamill Foundation.

"This new program is designed to provide start-up funding for research programs that have enormous potential but which traditional funding agencies too-often reject as risky," said IBB Director Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. "We are extremely grateful to the Hamill Foundation for its support of this innovative program."

The high-risk, high-impact research supported by the program honors the adventurous spirit of the late Claud B. Hamill, a successful oil wildcatter. The Hamill Foundation, which was founded by Mr. Hamill and his late wife Marie G. Hamill, is a loyal supporter of IBB, having been the first foundation to support the institute upon its inception in 1987.

The Hamill Innovation Grant program is designed to foster collaborative research among IBB researchers from varied disciplines. The program provides one-year, $15,000 grants that cover direct, start-up costs. Proposals were judged on their originality, scientific rigor, potential impact and integration of the collaborative team.

The inaugural grants will fund research by:

  • Rebekah Drezek, the Stanley C. Moore Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Jane Tao, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, to develop a nanoparticle-based point-of-care test for respiratory viruses. The team is aiming for a test that's faster, cheaper and more sensitive than existing tests, which will allow doctors to quickly determine the type of flu or respiratory virus a patient suffers from.

  • Ching-Hwa Kiang, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, Jane Tao, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, and Michael Deem, the John W. Cox Professor of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy, to investigate the mechanical properties of the protein titin. Titin, a large, elastic protein, plays a central but poorly understood role in the formation and function of heart tissue. Using a combination of experimental and theoretical studies, the group hopes to develop a solid understanding of titin's mechanical properties, both at the molecular and the macro scale.

  • K. Jane Grande-Allen, assistant professor of bioengineering, and Joff Silberg, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, to develop and apply new tools to sequence and manipulate complex chains of carbohydrates called glycosaminoglycans, or GAG, fundamental components of the extracellular matrix in all higher-order life forms. The project aims to lay the groundwork for new sequencing technologies -- similar to those developed for DNA sequencing -- that scientists can use to decipher and manipulate the wide variety of GAG chains found in human and animal tissues.

  • George Bennett, professor and chair of biochemistry and cell biology, and Ka-Yiu San, the E.D. Butcher Professor in Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, to explore new routes to biosynthesize resveratrol, a natural compound found in grapes, mulberries, peanuts, and other plants that has shown promise as a potential cancer fighting agent and a heart disease preventative. While a number of researchers are studying the effectiveness of the compound, the cost of resveratrol -- about $400 per gram -- could limit medicinal applications. Bennett and San hope to develop a cheaper way to make the compound by combing genetic sequences from various organisms to form resveratrol-making gene clusters in bioengineered bacteria.

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