Keck Futures Initiative announces grant recipients

Washington -- The National Academies Keck FUTURES INITIATIVE announced today the recipients of its 2005 FUTURES grants, each in the amount of $50,000 or $75,000 to support interdisciplinary research on genomics and infectious disease. The 14 research projects that were awarded funding represent a wide range of approaches to the field, which was the subject of the third FUTURES conference, "The Genomic Revolution: Implications for Treatment and Control of Infectious Disease," held last November in Irvine, Calif.

These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap between research on bold new ideas and major federal funding programs, which do not typically provide grants in areas that are considered risky or unusual. The FUTURES grants allow researchers to start developing a line of inquiry by recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

Funded by a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck FUTURES INITIATIVE is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers. The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields. The FUTURES INITIATIVE is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication between scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.

The FUTURES INITIATIVE builds on three pillars of vital and sustained research: interdisciplinary encounters that counterbalance specialization and isolation; the identification and exploration of new research topics; and communication that bridges languages, cultures, habits of thought, and institutions. Toward these goals, the National Academies Keck FUTURES INITIATIVE incorporates three core activities each year: FUTURES conferences, FUTURES grants, and National Academies Communication Awards.

The award recipients and their grant research topics are:

PHILIP AWADALLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh
HONGYU ZHAO, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.
SARAH TISHKOFF, University of Maryland, College Park
THE CO-EVOLUTION OF HUMAN AND PLASMODIUM GENOMIC INTERACTIONS - $75,000
Mortality associated with malaria has been a major selective force shaping variation in the human and P. FALCIPARUM genomes resulting in a genetic "arms race." Using an interdisciplinary approach, Awadalla, Zhao, and Tishkoff will incorporate novel molecular, genetic, statistical, evolutionary, and bioinformatics approaches to identify variants in genomes that play a role in host/pathogen interaction.

SALLY BLOWER, ROMULUS BREBAN, and RAFFAELE VARDAVAS University of California, Los Angeles
EXPLORING THE EMERGING ROLE OF PUBLIC HEALTH IN INTEGRATING GENOMICS INTO THE CONTROL AND PREVENTION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES - $75,000
Blower, Breban, and Vardavas will collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the "superbug" methicillin-resistant STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS (MRSA). These researchers will decide how genetic data can be used to characterize outbreaks, and predict the size and frequency; and design effective control strategies for MRSA at the state and the national level.

STEVEN BRENNER, University of California, Berkeley
MARIA ABREU and DANIEL PRESENT, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City
METAGENOMIC STUDIES OF HUMAN MICROBIOTA IN CROHN'S DISEASE - $75,000
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory disease of the digestive track that affects a half-million patients in the United States. Microbial populations in the intestines affect the development of the disease and vice versa. These researchers will use genomics to survey intestinal microbiata populations and understand their role in disease.

FREDERIC BUSHMAN, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
ROB DOUGLAS KNIGHT, University of Colorado, Boulder
DYNAMICS OF THE HUMAN INTESTINAL FLORA IN HEALTH AND DISEASE - $75,000
The human gut contains vast numbers of mutualistic bacteria. Normally the human immune system regulates this population, but upon HIV infection, gut immune cells are rapidly destroyed and intestinal illness follows. Using genomic approaches, these researchers will study the effects of disease on the composition of the gut flora.

KAM LEONG and LINGCHONG YOU, Duke University, Durham, N.C.
ENGINEERING "MICROBIAL SWARMBOTS" FOR MEDICAL APPLICATIONS - $75,000
These researchers will engineer microbial swarmbots as a platform technology for delivery of bioactive agents to combat infectious diseases. A microbial swarmbot is a small population of bacterial cells that are autonomously regulated by synthetic gene circuits and are encapsulated in microcapsules built from synthetic or natural polymers.

MICHAEL LORENZ, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston
GREGORY PETSKO, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.
IDENTIFICATION OF ISOCITRATE LYASE INHIBITORS AS BROAD-SPECTRUM ANTIMICROBIAL DRUGS - $50,000
These researchers will test a new model of drug discovery that uses comparative genomics and computer simulation. Using a combination of structure-guided computer modeling and laboratory testing, they will identify pharmaceutical inhibitors of the enzyme isocitrate lyase, which is required by several infectious agents to cause disease in humans.

DEIRDRE MELDRUM, University of Washington, Seattle
DEBRA WEINER and CARLO BRUGNARA, Harvard Medical School, Boston
ROLE OF NITRIC OXIDE ON WHITE BLOOD CELL FUNCTION IN INFLAMMATION AND INFECTION - $75,000
These researchers will use state-of-the-art microscale technology to measure and compare cellular events and white blood cell genomic expression in IN VITRO human models of infection and inflammation. Nitric oxide is an important mediator of white blood cell function in the pathogenesis and host defense of infectious and inflammatory processes.

BABAK PARVIZ, University of Washington, Seattle
DIRECT ELECTRONIC DETECTION OF MOLECULAR RECOGNITION AND BINDING EVENTS WITH ENGINEERED NANO-SCALE STRUCTURES - $75,000
Two nano-scale sensing mechanisms based on tunneling current and surface dipole fields will be investigated for direct conversion of molecular recognition and binding events to electronic signals. The new sensing mechanisms will provide powerful tools for furthering the understanding of biology at the small scale and extending the link between the genomic information and phenotype and the eventual disease.

CHRISTOPHER PLOWE and SHANNON TAKALA, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore
GENETIC DIVERSITY AND EFFICACY OF MALARIA DRUGS AND VACCINES - $75,000
These researchers will develop new genomic tools to assess how genetic differences in malaria parasites affect the ability of drugs to treat malaria and the ability of vaccines to prevent the disease in clinical trials in Africa.

DAVID RELMAN, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
ANNE RIMOIN, University of California, Los Angeles
BRINGING GENOMICS TO THE RAINFOREST: THE STUDY OF MONKEYPOX IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - $75,000
Monkeypox is an emerging infectious disease in Africa, and it unexpectedly caused an outbreak in the United States in 2003. These researchers will study the responses of patients with monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of Congo using powerful genomic tools, in order to understand this poorly studied disease.

DEBRA SCHWINN, NAN JOKERST and RICHARD FAIR, Duke University, Durham, N.C.
MIHRI OZKAN, University of California, Riverside
CREATING AN INEXPENSIVE DIAGNOSTIC FOR MALARIA USING COMBINED NANOTECHNOLOGY AND GENOMIC APPROACHES - $75,000
These researchers will develop an inexpensive field diagnostic to detect active malaria infection in a remote field setting where little electricity or medical expertise is available. The diagnostic tool uses microfluidics, nanotechnology, and genomics to diagnose the type and drug resistance of malaria parasites in humans.

VICTOR UGAZ, Texas A&M University, College Station
ROBIN LIU, CombiMatrix Corp.,Mukilteo, Wash.
ENHANCEMENT OF DNA MICROARRAY HYBRIDIZATION USING THERMAL GRADIENT INDUCED CONVECTIVE FLOW - $75,000
These researchers will develop a novel but simple and easy-to-implement technique, based on thermal gradient induced convection flow, to enhance DNA microarray hybridization and address the diffusion limitation and low throughput of current microarray technology. This technique would accelerate hybridization kinetics in virtually any microarray platform.

SHAN WANG, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
NADER POURMAND, Stanford Genome Technology Center, Stanford, Calif.
LOW COST AND RAPID MICROBE DIAGNOSTICS TO COMBAT DRUG RESISTANCE PHENOMENON IN INFECTIOUS DISEASES - $50,000
These researchers will develop a magneto-nano biosensor for portable and rapid microbial diagnostics. Furthermore, they will investigate its feasibility to rapidly identify organisms in infected patients, thereby reducing the overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotic regimens and saving numerous lives in hospitals.

JOHN WIKTOROWICZ, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston
CORINNE LENGSFELD, University of Denver, Colorado
MICRO INCUBATOR FOR BACTERIAL INFECTIOUS AGENTS - $75,000
Using microelectromechanical technology, these researchers will design and build a prototype microfluidic-based incubator with the potential to provide up to 100 environmental conditions within a small space. The incubator will be used to evaluate the impact of environmental factors on bacterial strain evolution, propagation and death.

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For more information, visit www.keckfutures.org or contact Marty Perreault at 949-387-5783.

[ This news release is available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG ]

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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