Three BU research teams win first prizes from the Kilachand Fund | The edge


In 2018, BU Administrator Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14) made the largest donation in Boston University history: $115 million. From that gift, $100 million created an endowment, the Rajen Kilachand Fund for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering, to support interdisciplinary research and solutions to some of society’s most pressing societal problems and medical diseases. annoying today.

Now, the first three teams to receive the Kilachand Prizes in an academic competition will use the funding to develop new solutions in multicellular design, biosensors and human brain modeling.

“The Kilachand fund has already begun to achieve its primary goal of catalyzing cross-disciplinary collaborations,” says Gloria S. Waters, BU vice president and associate vice president for research. “It’s wonderful to see faculty from so many different disciplines and parts of campus coming together to solve societal problems that could not be solved by any particular discipline.”

The three winning teams were selected by an advisory committee from a total of 35 proposals submitted by BU faculty from the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. Preference is given to projects likely to elicit support for major new research initiatives that connect faculty from different academic disciplines. Meet the first winners:

Christopher Chen for multi-cell design

Photo by Chitose Suzuki

Christopher Chen, ENG Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering and William Fairfield Warren Professor Emeritus, and his team, including co-principal investigators Allyson Sgro, ENG Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Pankaj Mehta, CAS Assistant Professor of Physics – received $1 million to develop new medical therapies from groups of cells that work together, as they do in nature.

Chen says the life sciences already have a deep understanding of cells at the individual level, but not collectively: “Multicellular communities function differently in our bodies, including bacteria that coexist in our gut or cause infections and even cancers. . He says his team will focus on how cells work together in communities to create functional tissues, resist antibiotics or slow the growth of cancerous tumors.

“Understanding the principles of multicellular design,” Chen says, “could uncover new ways to fight infection and cancer, heal wounds, or regenerate organs.”

The research will require interdisciplinary collaboration. “In particular,” he explains, “it requires experts in computer science, physics, mathematics, engineering, biology and medicine working in integrated teams.”

BU is particularly well suited to this interdisciplinary approach, says Chen. “At BU, we have a unique combination of strengths in synthetic biology, microbial engineering, tissue engineering, data science, and biophysics that will be integrated into the multicellular design program, which the $1 million prize will launch.”

Working across disciplines will also be a boon for students who will research alongside members of the faculty team. “Industry advisors have repeatedly stated how important it is for our students to develop an ability to work in teams with a variety of backgrounds, backgrounds and skills,” Chen said. “We believe our multi-cell design program will prepare students for future careers.”

James Galagan for using microbes to build biosensors

James Galagan
Photo courtesy of Galagan

James Galagan, ENG Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and his team have received $250,000 for their research into using microbes to build biosensors.

“Any problem involving biology will benefit from inexpensive, portable, real-time biosensors. A wonderful example of this approach is the bionic pancreas developed by Ed Damiano here at BU,” says Galagan. “It uses a continuous glucose sensor to precisely control the dosage of insulin and glucagon to maintain normal glucose levels. This glucose sensor is one of the inspirations for us in the development of a host of new sensors.”

The prize will allow Galagan and his team to extract biosensing parts of bacteria through a screening approach they have developed. These biological parts, “borrowed” from microbes, will then be optimized to develop a multitude of new electronic biosensor devices. Next, they plan to deploy these sensors in minimally invasive wearable health devices.

“Our team’s goal is to do work that will result in new technology that will be widely used and have a positive impact on society. Wearable health device sensors could monitor our well-being, prevent disorders, detect health problems at an early stage and monitor treatments,” says Galagan. The team’s research on biosensors could also have an impact on biotechnology, drug development, environmental monitoring, agriculture, and more.

“The scope of engineering in biology depends on the development of biosensors,” he says.

Modeling of the human brain, in 3D

Christine Chen
Photo courtesy of Cheng

Christine Cheng, CAS Assistant Professor of Biology, and Ben Wolozin, MED Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology, and their team were awarded $250,000 to improve our ability to model brain diseases using a synthetic 3D brain organoid , a living tissue that has human neurons and develops the exact pathology that occurs in the human brain. Their research would test potential treatments for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Until now, the only way to model the pathology of brain diseases was to use a mouse model, which is problematic because mouse neurons differ greatly from human neurons. Another advantage of the 3D organoid is time: whereas animal models take nine months to develop disease to a point where it can be studied, brain organoids develop robust disease in just three weeks. This means that any potential therapy could be tested more quickly.

“Our team is highly interdisciplinary,” says Cheng. “My lab brings expertise in 3D organoid, single-cell transcriptomics and bioinformatics, while Ben Wolozin’s lab brings in-depth understanding of the pathology and mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease.”

What impact will the price have? “Research is extremely expensive,” says Cheng. “The $250,000 grant will help us generate preliminary results that will allow us to obtain federal funds that can fully support these research projects. For Wolozin, the award allows their research to develop further. “After establishing this program [for Alzheimer’s]you can move on to other illnesses, like Parkinson’s or ALS, as well as depression or autism,” he says.

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