Rice bioscientists, bioengineers and collaborators win Hamill Innovation Awards

Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) will honor five teams of researchers chosen to receive Hamill Innovation Awards at a June 9 luncheon at the BioScience Research Collaborative.

Robert Robbins

Robert Robbins

Robert Robbins, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, will present a seminar at the luncheon.

Now in their 11th year, the awards fund the initiation of new collaborative research projects led by IBB faculty members at Rice.

This year’s honorees:

Gang Bao, the Foyt Family Professor of Bioengineering at Rice; William Lagor, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine; and Susan Hamilton, a professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at Baylor, for “AAV-CRISPR Based Genome Editing for Treating Autosomal Dominant Myopathy.” The researchers expect to test their hypothesis that disease-causing mutations can be selectively removed from mice through CRISPR-Cas9 editing tools delivered by adeno-associated viruses.

Scott Egan, an assistant professor of biosciences, and Luay Nakhleh, associate professor of computer science, both at Rice, for “Integrating DNA Diagnostics and Population Genomics To Benefit Society.” The researchers will use cutting-edge genomic techniques and “big data” statistical and bioinformatic tools to identify diagnostic DNA sequences that rapidly and reliably detect and distinguish emerging biological threats linked to human well-being.

Tomasz Tkaczyk, an associate professor of bioengineering, and Michael Diehl, an associate professor of bioengineering, both at Rice, for “Adaptive Snapshot Imaging Spectrometer for Design and Analyses of Therapeutic Immune Cells.” The researchers will initiate research on a multiplexed, single-cell imaging approach to characterize and control the dynamics of “natural killer” cells that may be employed as living drugs to attack cancer tumors.

James Tour, the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice; Sam Wu, a professor of neuroscience, ophthalmology, molecular physiology and biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine; and Emmanuel Chang, an adult and pediatric vitreoretinal surgeon at Retina and Vitreous of Texas and a research associate at Rice, for “Design, Fabrication and Testing of a High-Resolution Retinal Prosthesis.” Such a prosthesis would help overcome visual disabilities through biocompatible silicon-graphene nanopillars that bypass an eye’s dysfunctional photoreceptor layer and make direct contact with the neurons of the retina.

Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering and a professor of materials science and nanoengineering, of chemistry and of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice, and Ghanashyam Acharya, an assistant professor of ophthalmology and surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine Translational Nanomedicine Research Laboratory, for “Development of Fluorinated Graphene Quantum Dots as Smart Dual Mode MRI Contrast Agent.” The dots would allow for more efficient magnetic resonance imaging without the cytotoxic effects of metallic contrast agents.

The Hamill Foundation supported this year’s awards.

Advance registration for the luncheon and seminar is required by noon June 5. RSVP at http://ibb.rice.edu.

About Mike Williams

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