The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the University of Delaware a five-year, $5.85 million grant to extend an interdisciplinary research program focused on the molecular design of advanced biomaterials, directed by Tatyana Polenova, professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
The grant is part of the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which supports projects to strengthen both the research infrastructure of an institution or region and the career development of junior faculty members.
This COBRE project began with a grant in 2003, won a competitive renewal from the NIH in 2008 and will now enter its third five-year phase, which will continue until 2019.
“When we began in 2003, we had five members, and today our center has 21 faculty and staff,” Polenova said. “We’ve been able to bring in young faculty members to join our center and have their research jump-started by the grant while they develop their own sources of funding. At first, they’re mentored by more experienced researchers, and then later as they become independent, they serve as mentors for the newer faculty who have come in.
“Now, with Phase 3 of the grant, it’s very cool to realize that we’re recruiting our third generation of researchers.”
The center is planning to offer seed grants to three or four pilot research projects each year, with goals of beginning new research directions and establishing new interdisciplinary collaborations in the area of advanced biomaterials.
Biomaterials, which come in contact with parts of the body for an extended time, are generally defined as substances that have been engineered to interact with living systems in a way that can direct medical therapies or diagnoses. The Molecular Design of Advanced Biomaterials center works with biomaterials for uses such as tissue regeneration, tissue engineering and payload transport and drug delivery.
In addition to the professional development and growth for faculty members that has enabled UD’s work in biomaterials to expand over the past 10 years, the COBRE program has also focused on infrastructure. The grants have supplemented University investments, particularly in the specialized instrumentation used by scientists who are designing and testing the advanced biomaterials.
The center operates four core instrumentation facilities, most located in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, but all available to researchers across campus from any discipline, Polenova said. The NIH grants have helped acquire the instruments, she said, and also help offset the user fees charged to all UD scientists and engineers.
The core facilities are:
- Mass spectrometry, co-directed by Colin Thorpe, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and by Thomas P. Beebe Jr., also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Surface Analysis Facility;
- Nuclear magnetic resonance laboratory, directed by Shi Bai, facility director and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry;
- Microscopy and mechanical testing, directed by Xinqiao Jia, associate professor of materials science and engineering and of biomedical engineering; and
- Computational core facility, directed by Sandeep Patel, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
“The center has capabilities to characterize materials from atomic resolution to the macroscopic,” Polenova said. “In 2003, we basically started from scratch in terms of infrastructure concentrated in this area, and now we have these awesome facilities.”
More about COBRE
The Molecular Design of Advanced Biomaterials program is one of four COBRE centers at UD, including the newest one, which was funded earlier this year. Led by Joseph Fox, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, that center focuses on the discovery of new molecules to improve human health.
Other COBRE programs at the University conduct research on membrane protein production and characterization, led by Abraham Lenhoff, Allan P. Colburn Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and on osteoarthritis, directed by Thomas Buchanan, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering.
COBRE seeks to develop biomedical research facilities and build capacities in selected states, including Delaware. Polenova said the program has been instrumental.
“Our center is highly collaborative, and over the years, we’ve built important synergy across campus,” she said. “This has been extremely helpful in advancing our work.”