Research Wire: October 2019

Ten researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have received funding from the Longer Life Foundation, a cooperative effort between the School of Medicine and the Reinsurance Group of America (RGA). The grants help junior investigators launch research projects and assist more established researchers as they extend their investigations into new areas.

The foundation supports research aimed at improving methods for promoting healthier lives, enhancing longevity and predicting long-term mortality. Read more about the researchers and their work.

Weixiong Zhang, professor of computer science and engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering and of genetics at the School of Medicine, along with his doctoral student Xiaoxin Liu, discovered and studied a new class of circular RNAs by analyzing enormous amounts of genetic data from humans, mice and rice.

After having biologists at Jianghan University in China validate their computational results, they reported their findings in RNA Biology, published online Sept. 27. Read more at the McKelvey School of Engineering website.

Ofer Zimmerman, MD, a clinical fellow in the Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine, received a $100,000 Physician Scientist Fellowship award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He will be working in the laboratory of Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine, to study the role of variations in the gene MXRA8 in infection with chikungunya virus, which can cause chronic arthritis.

Savannah Martin, a graduate student of biological anthropology in Arts & Sciences, received $25,200 from the National Science Foundation for her doctoral dissertation research project, titled “Cultural identity as a moderator of stress physiology.” Martin is under the direction of EA Quinn, associate professor of physical anthropology.

ShiNung Ching, associate professor of electrical and systems engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, and Lawrence Snyder, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the School of Medicine, will study short-term working memory in the brain — part of a broader effort to understand the link between the dynamics and function of neural circuits — with a three-year $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)‘s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and National Institute of Mental Health.

The grant is part of the NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, aimed at revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain. Read more on the engineering website.

Sara Sanders, a postdoctoral research associate working with Petra Levin, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, received a $50,004 fellowship from the university’s W. M. Keck Postdoctoral Program in Molecular Medicine. In addition, Elizabeth Mueller, a Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences graduate fellow working with Levin, received a $20,000 fellowship from the university’s Center for Science and Engineering of Living Systems.

Brent Williams, the Raymond R. Tucker Distinguished InCEES Career Development Associate Professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering, has received a four-year $422,432 grant from the National Science Foundation for an investigation into air quality and pollution in the Arctic during winter.

The research will look at the intersection of outdoor and indoor pollution as people spend much more time inside during the long, dark Arctic winters. Particularly, Williams is looking to investigate outdoor and indoor air transport; indoor pollution sources (such as leaky heaters); and the chemical transformation of pollutants in the harsh conditions of Arctic winters.

The project, Sustainably Navigating Arctic Pollution-Through Engaging Communities (SNAP-TEC), will involve community members’ input when it comes to identifying local areas of concern and in designing sustainable development frameworks for the future.

Hong Chen, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering and of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, received a $309,909 grant from National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the application of focused ultrasound-mediated drug delivery technique for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Jim Janetka, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the School of Medicine, received a one-year SBIR grant award totaling $299,972 from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research titled “Inhibitors of pro-HGF activation overcome resistance to anti-EGFR therapy.”

Jeffrey Catalano, professor of earth and planetary sciences, and Kaushik Mitra, graduate student in earth and planetary sciences, both in Arts & Sciences, received $123,950 from NASA-FINESST for a project titled “Chlorate as an Fe and Mn oxidant on the Martian surface.”

Last year, Peng Bai, assistant professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, published research in which he discovered that one of the main roadblocks to building smaller lithium ion batteries was actually three separate roadblocks.

Now, Bai has received a $397,214 grant from the National Science Foundation to better understand these roadblocks, which can cause short circuits and loss in energy capacity. The combined experimental and theoretical research will be used to guide the holistic design of stable alkali metal anodes.

The project also will benefit students from K-12 through graduate level. A summer program will be established, working with underrepresented high school students and high school teachers using engineering concepts of metal-based batteries.

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