Three teams of Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine researchers have been named winners of the 2020 John S. Dunn Collaborative Research Awards. The annual program that began in 2008 supports new collaborations among researchers at two or more Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC) institutions. The program is funded by the John S. Dunn Foundation and administered by the GCC.
NRI investigator, Mingshan Xue, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor and Jerzy Szablowski, a Rice assistant professor of bioengineering and a core faculty member of the university’s Neuroengineering Initiative, were among the awardees. They are working on region-specific and brainwide gene therapy for neurodevelopmental disorders. Because current treatments are only able to alleviate symptoms without addressing the genetic causes, researchers have a long-term goal to identify targets and develop methods to deliver gene therapies. They first plan to target pathogenic STXBP1-encephalopathy binding proteins associated with intellectual disabilities and epilepsies.
The Dunn Foundation is a longtime supporter of collaborative research through the GCC, which builds interdisciplinary research teams and training programs in the biomedical sciences that involve the computational, chemical, mathematical and physical sciences. GCC member institutions include Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), the Institute of Biosciences and Technology of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (IBT) and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The other awardees include -
Taiyun Chi, a Rice assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Swathi Balaji, an assistant professor of surgery at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital. They are developing an artificial intelligence-assisted smart wound dressing to expedite wound healing.
Isaac Hilton, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice, and Andrew DiNardo, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Baylor, who are working on CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing techniques that pave the way for treatment of tuberculosis by reversing pathological DNA methylation.