University of Delaware Research Foundation awards nine projects
In their UDRF project, Millicent Sullivan (left), assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Kristi Kiick, associate professor of materials science and engineering, are combining their expertise in gene delivery and materials design to improve wound care.

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4:43 p.m., March 3, 2011----The University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) has awarded strategic initiative grants to nine UD faculty teams for research on topics ranging from Alzheimer's disease to advanced composites for generating hydrogen.

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The nonprofit foundation created the strategic initiative grants program in 2008 to support research in the life and health sciences, energy and the environment -- priority areas in the University's Path to ProminenceTM.

In addition to advancing the University's strategic plan, major goals of the program are to pair early-career faculty with senior faculty mentors and to seed promising research that will lead to larger proposals to such agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, according to Mark Barteau, UD's senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives. The Research Office administers the program.

Each award of $45,000 supports a one-year research project. The funding includes $35,000 provided by UDRF, which is matched by $5,000 from the provost and $5,000 by the researcher's college dean.

The funded projects include the following:

Determinants of Tau Protein Aggregation, a Key Player in Alzheimer's Disease -- David Colby, assistant professor, and Anne Robinson, professor, both in the Department of Chemical Engineering, are working to determine what causes tau protein, found in abundance in the long, slender axons, or signal transmitters, of normal nerve cells, to misfold and tangle, ultimately leading to nerve cell death.

Nanoparticle Stabilization of Co-Continuous Polymer Blends for Organic Photovoltaics -- Thomas H. Epps, III, assistant professor, and Eric M. Furst, associate professor, both in the Department of Chemical Engineering, are using formulations of tiny particles of titanium dioxide and semi-conducting polymers to generate new organic electronics membranes with improved performance and efficiency due to the formation of stable, continuous electron-conducting pathways.

An Early Warning System for Unrecognized Drug Side Effects Discovery -- Hui Fang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Steven Stanhope, professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences, are working to develop a novel early warning system that monitors the Internet, such as social network sites, to identify possible unrecognized drug side effects. Cathy Wu, Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, is a co-mentor on this project, which involves collaborations within the Delaware Valley Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (DVICTS) and with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals.

The Effectiveness of Hip-Focused Treatment for Older Adults with Chronic Low Back Pain -- Gregory Hicks, assistant professor of physical therapy, and Lynn Snyder-Mackler, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Physical Therapy, are pilot-testing a novel intervention strategy -- a spine-focused exercise program supplemented with a hip-focused intervention -- for older adults with chronic low back pain, a population that has been largely ignored in the medical literature.

Photo-patterning Chalcogenide Glasses for Nanophotonic Light Trapping and Extraction in Photovoltaics and Solid-State Lighting -- Juejun Hu, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and John Xiao, professor of physics and astronomy, are developing a novel method of 3-D photo-patterning to enable cost-effective fabrication of large light trapping/extraction structures for solar and solid-state lighting applications, such as LEDs.

Hybrid, Multiblock Polymers by Condensation Polymerization Employing Tetrazine Ligation -- Xinqiao Jia, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and Joseph Fox, associate professor of chemistry, are working to develop a new class of synthetic biomaterials inspired by the natural biopolymer elastin, with applications in tissue engineering.

Neurobiological Factors and Motor Learning Following Stroke -- Darcy Reisman, assistant professor of physical therapy, and Kathleen Matt, dean and professor of health sciences, are examining the relationship between brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in mediating cortical plasticity and learning, and motor learning in persons post-stroke compared to age- and gender-matched control subjects. Stroke currently is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States.

Advanced Nanocomposite Materials for Hydrogen Generation with a High Efficiency --Jonghwan Suhr, assistant professor, and Bingqing Wei, associate professor, both in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, are investigating the fundamentals of a novel nanocomposite material as a visible-light photocatalyst for hydrogen generation. The researchers hope to introduce new paradigms to achieve high sunlight-to-power conversion efficiencies.

DNA-Modified Collagen Scaffolds for Improving Acute Wound Repair -- Millicent Sullivan, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Kristi Kiick, associate professor of materials science and engineering, are combining their expertise in gene delivery and materials design to develop biomaterials with the controlled release of growth factor for improving wound care. Approximately 50 million surgical procedures and an additional 50 million traumatic wounds occur annually in the United States.

Article by Tracey Bryant
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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