Joint Iowa, Iowa State research teams win seed grants to launch bioscience projects

Researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa are looking inside immune cells. Here, they’ve made blue ribbon diagrams of a specific protein in our immune cells. The gray shapes are derived from electron microscopy and show how this protein fits within larger protein complexes. The researchers think the larger complexes are important for immune cell function. Image courtesy of Amy Andreotti/Iowa State University.

Researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa are looking inside immune cells. Here, they’ve made blue ribbon diagrams of a specific protein in our immune cells. The gray shapes are derived from electron microscopy and show how this protein fits within larger protein complexes. The researchers think the larger complexes are important for immune cell function. Image courtesy of Amy Andreotti/Iowa State University.

The following article was previously published on July 23, 2018 via Iowa State University’s News Service.

AMES and IOWA CITY, Iowa – In an effort to spur greater collaboration between bioscience researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, the two schools have awarded seed grants to help investigators build teams, collect data, grow projects and win grants.

This is the first year of the seed grant program supported by the Office of Research and Economic Development at Iowa and the Office of the Vice President for Research at Iowa State. Each of the five seed grants is for two years and a total of $50,000.

The idea is to grow strong collaborations between Iowa State and Iowa researchers that will develop projects in four general areas: antimicrobial research; vaccines and immunotherapy; brain science; and medical devices. The projects are expected to advance both universities’ research profiles and create opportunities to win larger grants.

This first round of grants supports development and studies of a skin-monitoring device, a molecular view of the immune system, magnetic stimulation of the brain to improve mental health, understanding protein-neuron interactions in epilepsy and diagnostic tests and treatments to fight Lassa virus in Africa.

“Our two great schools have strong bioscience programs that can certainly stand on their own but we know we can do so much more if we work together,” said John Keller, interim vice president for research and economic development and dean of Iowa’s Graduate College. “Beyond the funding, our hope is that this effort to jump-start meaningful and collaborative research will inspire these teams and future participants to look beyond their own campuses for strong allies and partners as they work to answer some of life’s big questions.”

Sarah Nusser, Iowa State’s vice president for research, said: “Iowa State sought Iowa’s partnership to leverage our complementary research strengths in animal and human health. These teams have great potential to address significant health issues and support the governor’s bioscience platforms for growing Iowa’s economy.”

Here are more details about the winning projects:

● A medical device to monitor skin healing

Leaders: Simon Laflamme, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State; Thomas Lawrence, director of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Iowa; Iris Rivero, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at Iowa State; and Eric Zellner, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Iowa State.

Collaborators: Luis Garcia, director of the Hernia Center and clinical assistant professor of acute care surgery at Iowa; and Karl Kraus, a professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Iowa State.

Project: The researchers will develop an ultra-flexible biosensor that measures the forces of everyday activities on skin and monitors skin as it heals. Identifying changes in forces during healing could lead to adjustments in treatment and faster healing with fewer complications.

● A look inside immune cells as they respond to pathogens

Leaders: Amy Andreotti, University Professor and Roy J. Carver Chair of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology at Iowa State; and Jon Houtman, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Iowa.

Project: The researchers will study what happens inside immune cells during a response to an infection – specifically the formation of large protein complexes that transmit signals from outside the cell into the nucleus when the immune system is activated.

● Developing and studying magnetic stimulation of the brain to improve mental health

Leaders: David Jiles, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Palmer Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Stanley Chair in Interdisciplinary Engineering at Iowa State; and Hiroyuki Oya, associate professor of neurosurgery at Iowa.

Project: Jiles’ research group will design novel coils for transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is used as a research tool in neuroscience and a treatment for depression, and Oya’s group will measure the real-time effects of the stimulation on the human brain.

 

● Elucidating the role of an Alzheimer’s disease-related pathway on epileptic seizures

Leaders: Gloria Lee, professor of internal medicine – immunology at Iowa; and Thimmasettappa Thippeswamy, professor of biomedical sciences at Iowa State.

Collaborators: Alexander Bassuk, professor of pediatrics at Iowa; and Marco Hefti, assistant professor of pathology at Iowa.

Project: Project leaders have collaborated on studies of the effects of an Alzheimer’s disease-related signaling pathway on epilepsy since 2015. They’ll study the effects of pathway proteins on signaling during acute and chronic seizures and also examine human disease samples, with the goal of developing detection probes for epilepsy.

 

● Development of diagnostic tests and treatments against Lassa virus

Leaders: Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at Iowa State; Wendy Maury, professor of microbiology and immunology at Iowa; and Pranav Shrotriya, professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State.

Project: Diagnostic tests and antivirals against a number of highly virulent viruses found in Africa are currently lacking. The study is designed to select molecules that bind to a Lassa virus protein, thereby blocking virus infection.

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