Rice researchers, collaborators awarded Dunn grants

Foundation donates seed money for initiatives at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative

Three projects and a scientific meeting have been funded in a new round of John S. Dunn Foundation seed grants, which go to scientists based at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) and their collaborators at other institutions.

The awards were given by the foundation to support projects that foster interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research at the BRC. The Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC) administers the program.

The new project awards, which provide about $100,000 each, will support research into the treatment of gastrointestinal disease, the development of a diagnostic device for epilepsy patients and the creation of split protein biocatalysts for the treatment of disease. These projects were chosen from among 21 proposals.

A fourth grant will support a meeting on multicellular self-organization.

Gastrointestinal relief


In the first project, George Bennett and Mary Estes will test novel analogues of short carbohydrate molecules (specifically glycans) found in human secretions that are important inhibitors of gastrointestinal disease, the third most-common cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide. The researchers expect their work will benefit young children and the elderly, who are the most susceptible to diarrheal disease.

Bennett is the E. Dell Butcher Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Rice. Estes is the Cullen Endowed Chair of Human and Molecular Virology and professor of medicine and medicine-GI at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center.

Help for epilepsy sufferers


Giridhar Kalamangalam and John McDevitt and their teams are developing a version of the McDevitt Lab’s Bio-Nano-Chip to test for levels of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) in people with epilepsy. The measurement of AED concentrations in the body helps physicians make decisions about drug dosing, but current methods depend on obtaining blood samples and sending them for remote laboratory processing. The new test will read drug and metabolite levels from saliva, rather than blood, and be far quicker and more convenient.

Kalamangalam is an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. McDevitt is the Brown-Wiess Professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry at Rice.

A protein switch to control cells



Jonathan Silberg, Anthony Maresso and Lynn Zechiedrich will take a cell-level approach to the creation of tools to treat diseases through the development of split protein biocatalysts and reporters. In their proposal, the researchers wrote, “Sometimes scientists find out that researchers in other fields have a tool that can open the door to brand new opportunities with little effort.”

Silberg had created a switch that turns on fluorescent signals in live cells and developed a method that accelerates the design of such switches that make cells do new things or even cure diseases. Zechiedrich invented a new way to fix DNA, but needed a switch to study her invention. Maresso also needed a switch to study bacteria as they transition into a killer mode.

Together, the team will use Silberg’s physics-inspired switches to explore critical health issues for humans.

Silberg is an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice. Zechiedrich is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology and in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). Maresso is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at BCM.

How do cells self-organize?




The event grant will support a scientific meeting to address a key question that spans biology, physics, math, medicine and engineering: How do cells self-organize to form complex spatial structures? The organizers plan a workshop to foster networking among GCC researchers and develop the necessary framework for a large-scale national grant.

The organizers are Amina Qutub and Oleg Igoshin, both assistant professors of bioengineering at Rice; Gabor Balazsi, an assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Waleed Gaber, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital.

The Dunn Foundation is a longtime supporter of collaborative research through the GCC, which builds interdisciplinary teams and training programs in the biological sciences that involve the computational, chemical, mathematical and physical sciences.





About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.