Four receive University of Delaware Research Foundation funding

The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) has funded four UD projects that will shed light on pressing topics in health and the environment, from exploring ocean organisms for new drugs to investigating what role micro-strokes may play in causing dementia.

A private corporation chartered in 1955, UDRF offers competitive grants each year for UD faculty early in their careers. The early-career investigator is paired with a tenured professor who serves as a collaborator and mentor.

The latest awards range from $45,000 to $60,000 per year, seeding promising research that aligns closely with the University’s strategic plan.

“This year’s UDRF-SI award recipients are teams of outstanding early career faculty paired with more seasoned mentors addressing grand challenges in human health and the environment. I am excited to see how the preliminary results obtained with UDRF-SI funding lead to new insights into these problems while positioning the faculty for future external funding,” said Charlie Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation.

The recipients and their projects are as follows:

• Emily Day, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is developing nanoparticles that can combat triple-negative breast cancer tumors. Near-infrared light will be used to trigger these tiny particles to unleash heat and generate a high-energy form of oxygen, called singlet oxygen, to destroy the cancer cells. This innovative approach would provide a selective treatment for an aggressive cancer that currently is treated with high-dose chemotherapy, which can have serious side effects and limited results. Her collaborator and mentor on the project is Joel Rosenthal, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

• Where will our future medicines come from as more and more antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria emerge? Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor of marine biosciences, will be examining the microorganisms living on and in horseshoe crabs and oysters — a bacterial world called their “microbiome” — and will cultivate and test selected microbes to see if they demonstrate antimicrobial activity. Her goal is to find promising new targets for drug development. This research coincides with the National Microbiome Initiative of the White House. Biddle’s collaborator and mentor on the project is Eric Wommack, professor of environmental microbiology and deputy dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

• Forty-seven million people have dementia — that merciless robber of memory, judgment and personality — and that number is projected to more than double by 2050. Strokes so slight people don’t even notice them cause tiny areas of the brain to die and have been implicated in dementia. John Slater, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is working to create an in vitro brain model using engineered matrices laden with biomimetic microfluidic networks. It will be used to simulate these micro-strokes, giving scientists new insights into how dementia arises and potential treatments. Slater’s collaborator and mentor is Kelvin Lee, Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

• Soil moisture is critical to plant growth and thus food security. Rodrigo Vargas Ramos, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, wants to transform how soil moisture data can be extracted from the vast environmental data now available. Using a combination of mathematical models and high-performance computing techniques, his goal is to create a global map of soil moisture representing every day from 1980 to 2015, at a resolution of one square kilometer. Such a map also will help scientists assess impacts from changing climate. His collaborator and mentor is Michela Taufer, David and Beverly C. Mills Career Development Chair of Computer and Information Sciences.

Visit the Research Office website for more information on funding opportunities.