Research Wire: August 2018

Hong Chen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and assistant professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, has received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Brain Initiative to develop a non-invasive neuromodulation tool that works on the cellular level and uses focused ultrasound, operating with high spatiotemporal precision. Chen is working across disciplines, with Jianmin Cui, professor of biomedical engineering; Joseph Culver, professor of radiology, physics, and biomedical engineering at the School of Medicine; and former Washington  University faculty member Michael Bruchas.

Functional Optical Imaging Feedback-Controlled Cellular-Level Ultrasound Stimulation (FOCUS) will help researchers better understand the general underpinnings of neuroscience, but the group also has envisioned a pathway for clinical use. The project is part of the NIH’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, federally funded research aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. 

Meredith Jackrel, assistant professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences, received a five-year, $1.9 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for her project “Safeguards of the Proteome: Elucidating the Roles of Protein Disaggregases.” Given that protein misfolding can lead to neurodegenerative disease and cardiovascular disorders, Jackrel plans to focus her research on understanding how protein misfolding occurs and on how protein disaggregases can prevent and reverse protein misfolding. She also aims to use protein engineering and directed evolution to tune the properties of disaggregases so that they ultimately might be applied to prevent or reverse the process.

Alvitta Ottley, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, received a $174,254 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the strategies and biases people have that influence decision-making — and to design graphics that accommodate them. Ottley is designing better ways to visually communicate complex health data to patients. Learn more on the engineering website.

Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, was awarded a one-year $149,729 National Science Foundation EAGER grant for the project “Removing barriers to macro-ecoevolutionary studies of the avian brain.” The new award will allow Botero to build out a dataset that integrates studies on brain size variation with a variety of high-quality time series data on the ecology, demography and phenology of birds. The project also will examine how different historical and natural history constraints can lead to fundamentally different pathways for brain size evolution.

William Yeoh, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, is designing algorithms to run the smart homes of the future. Yeoh received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to work on developing smart-home AI algorithms that can determine what a user wants by both asking questions and making smart guesses, and then plan and schedule accordingly. Learn more on the engineering website.

Jonathan Myers, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, is a co-investigator on a two-year $199,995 National Science Foundation EAGER grant for the project “Disentangling the effects of ecological clade sorting and adaptive diversification to the assembly of regional biotas.” This project will explore why environmental changes associated with the uplift of the Andes Mountains influenced the distribution, diversification and diversity of tree species in the tropical Andes, one of earth’s most species-rich biodiversity hotspots. Myers’ team includes researchers from the Missouri Botanical Garden and collaborators from The Madidi Project.

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