Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park have received a total of $1.3 million in new awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund ongoing research in several areas of the life sciences, including a study of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, work aimed at using adult stem cells to repair damaged hearts, and a project that seeks to create engineered blood vessels.
"Over the past five years, WPI has invested more than $100 million in the life sciences, much of that to create the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, which houses interdisciplinary research programs that span five academic departments," said John Orr, Provost. "The center has served as a catalyst for meaningful research that is addressing critical problems in healthcare, environmental science, and other fields. It is exciting to see that the importance and promise of this work has been recognized by the NIH, the NSF, and other federal agencies."
"These NIH and NSF programs are awarded only to scientists working at the leading edge of their respective fields," noted Congressman James McGovern, D-Massachusetts."So it is very gratifying to see researchers at WPI continuing to break new ground and attract this important federal support. This research not only impacts people’s health, but also helps us sustain and grow the life sciences sector in Central Massachusetts."
The WPI researchers receiving new NIH and NSF awards include:
- Jose Arguello, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who will receive a two-year, $439,943 award from the NIH to further his studies of the biochemical processes that M. tuberculosis and other virulent bacteria use to repel attacks by a host's immune system. These bacteria defend themselves by secreting complex molecules containing metals like zinc and copper that can overcome the host's protective efforts.
In the new study, Arguello and his team will try to identify the specific biochemical steps involving the transport of metal ions that contribute to the bacterial defense mechanism in M. tuberculosis. They will then disrupt the process at various points to see if they can prevent infection in a mouse model. The work could lead to targets for a new class of antibiotics that could replace medications to which M. tuberculosis have become resistant. Arguello will collaborate with Christopher Sassetti, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who also works on M. tuberculosis.
- Marsha Rolle, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who will receive a two-year, $215,962 NIH award to continue research aimed, ultimately, at the development of engineered replacement blood vessels. She will study how smooth muscle cells interact to form structural links (the extracellular matrix) that contribute to the formation of blood vessels. Rolle will further optimize a model system for growing smooth muscle cells in rings that approximate the cross sections of a blood vessel. (The biomechanical properties of the rings will be evaluated in collaboration with co-investigator Kristen Billiar.)
- Kristen Billiar, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering, who will receive $215,661 over two years from the NIH to study the mechanical properties of heart valve tissues and the effects that motion and inflammation have on the stiffness of heart valves. The study aims to better understand the mechanobilogy of heart valves, both for its relationship to heart disease and to glean knowledge to apply to the development of engineered heart valve replacements.
- Terri Camesano, PhD, associate professor of chemical engineering, who will receive $198,870 from the NSF to purchase an atomic force microscope specifically designed to examine biological processes. Camesano will use the device in her ongoing research into biomechanical processes by which bacteria adhere to surfaces, the first step of infection. The microscope will also be a shared resource, available for use by other WPI faculty.
- Glenn Gaudette, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who will receive $197,601 from the NIH over two years to supplement his ongoing NIH-funded work on processes involved in using stem cells derived from human bone marrow to restore function to damaged hearts.
- Tanja Dominko, DVM, PhD, associate professor of biology and biotechnology, will receive a one-year, $104,000 award from the NIH to supplement her ongoing NIH-funded studies of how various types of cells, including stem cells, can be manipulated for wound healing and tissue regeneration.