Rice collaborators win Hamill Innovation Awards

Hamill Award winners

Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative hosted a luncheon May 7 to honor this year's Hamill Innovation Awards winners. From left, institute Executive Director Stacey Kalovidouris, Hamill Foundation President Charlie Read, institute Director Rebecca Richards-Kortum; Hamill Award recipients Michael Diehl, James McNew, Weiwei Zhong, Dan Wagner, Laura Segatori and Janet Braam, and Pam Stanton, senior executive assistant of the foundation. Photo by Kimberly McCarver

Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering honored five teams of researchers chosen to receive Hamill Innovation Awards at a May 7 luncheon at the BioScience Research Collaborative.

The awards, in their 10th year, are given to initiate collaborative research projects led by institute members. 

This year’s honorees:

Jacob Robinson, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Weiwei Zhong, an assistant professor of biosciences and computer science, won for their project, “Microfabricated Devices for High Throughput In Vivo Neurobiology Studies.”
They will work to create the first high-throughput devices to analyze and connect behavioral and neurobiology phenotypes in animal models for neurological disease, using the roundworms studied by Zhong’s lab as a platform.

Zhong, Yizhi Jane Tao, an associate professor of biosciences, and Jun Lou, an associate professor of materials science and nanoengineering, won for their project, “Virus Engineering for the Biological Control of Parasitic Nematodes.”
Such controls, if successful, would help limit the significant damage now inflicted by parasitic nematodes on people, crops and livestock worldwide. Zhong and Tao were the first researchers to find the crystal structure of the first virus known to infect nematodes. They plan to use that structure as the basis for their viral engineering studies.

Janet Braam, chair and the Wiess Professor of BioSciences; Laura Segatori, an associate professor of biosciences and bioengineering; and Olivier Lichtarge, a Baylor College of Medicine computational biologist of molecular and human genetics, won for their project, “Targeting Predicted ATG4 Regulatory Sites for Autophagy Regulation.”
The researchers aim to discover the molecular functional basis of a key protein involved in the biology of aging and associated diseases and to validate a rational computational approach to identify drug target sites and design functional inhibitors.

James McNew, an associate professor of biosciences, and Michael Diehl, an associate professor of chemistry and bioengineering, won for their project, “The Role of ER Shaping Proteins in Peroxisome Biogenesis and Maintenance.” Through their work, they hope to develop tools to decode the complex ways cytoplasmic organelles communicate with each other.

Amina Qutub, an assistant professor of bioengineering, and Dan Wagner, an associate professor of biosciences, won for their project, “Characterizing and Controlling the Neurovasculature Through Hypoxic Response.” They will combine computer simulations with experiments to determine how blood flow in the brain responds to hypoxic stimuli at the molecular, cell, multicellular and tissue levels. Ultimately, they hope to build a roadmap to programming neurovascular regeneration.

Student recipients of the institute’s travel grants and BioScience Research Collaborative Prizes were also honored at the event.

The Hamill Foundation, the Edgar O’Rear Family Fund, the BRC Collaboration Fund and the Mary Morse Family Fund supported the awards.


About Mike Williams

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