In the News
Martin Wins Innovation Award
The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) has announced that six campus research teams have been named recipients of the 3rd annual Manning/IALS Innovation Awards. These translational grants are designed to advance applied research and development efforts from UMass-based faculty research groups in the sciences and engineering through the development of spin-out/startup companies and the out-licensing of UMass intellectual property.
Alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane, committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program. The gift provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable commercialization pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst.
Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS, says, “We are grateful to the Manning Family Foundation and Paul Manning for their support of this exciting translational initiative. This seed fund program enables UMass Amherst start-up companies to traverse the funding ‘valley of death’ towards success.”
Six projects were selected from a highly competitive group of applicants. Each successful team will receive seed funding of up to $100,000 over 12 to 18 months towards achieving translational milestones. In addition, a collaborative effort from IALS, the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship and the Isenberg School of Management will provide support for commercialization efforts, including business training and mentorship resources.
The winning team leaders and their projects are:
- RNA4Therapeutics: Craig Martin, chemistry. A novel manufacturing technology for the synthesis of high purity, low-cost, and large scale RNA manufacturing for therapeutic use.
- E2-PATH: Karen Dunphy/Joe Jerry, veterinary & animal sciences. A diagnostic personalized medicine screening platform for selecting optimized breast cancer treatments.
- OPG Wastewater Treatment: Chul Park, civil & environmental engineering. Developing technology that enables aeration-free and energy efficient wastewater treatment.
- Optical Waters: Mariana Lopes, civil & environmental engineering. Germicidal optical fibers to prevent disease causing biofilms in medical devices.
- 3Daughters: Carlos Gradil, veterinary & animal sciences. A women’s healthcare startup developing a new ergonomic, pain-free, magnetic intrauterine device (IUD).
- Volvox Sciences: Ashish Kulkarni, chemical engineering. Developing a novel supramolecular nano-therapeutic (CSF-SNT) that can efficiently remove cancer tumor cells.
The award process brought together on-campus and off-campus reviewers of these applications. The reviewers bring diverse perspectives with science, engineering, nursing, public health and health sciences, and data/computer science expertise and were supplemented by industry/start-up and IP expertise. The project was supported by Manning-IALS Summer Business Innovation Fellows.
“The Manning Innovation Awards are the perfect catalyst for forging collaborative effort across campus disciplines in support of moving ground-breaking science from our labs to our community,” says Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and associate chancellor for strategic academic planning. “This investment again supports UMass as a partner of choice in advancing and generating new knowledge, leading to the betterment of society.”
“At UMass, we are dedicated to finding solutions to real-world problems that impact society and our planet,” says Sanjay Raman, dean of the College of Engineering. “The Manning/IALS innovation awards represent a vital investment in taking science and engineering discoveries from lab to market. We are incredibly proud of this year’s winners and are looking forward to seeing these exciting projects move forward on the path to commercialization.”
Paul Manning, a 1977 graduate of UMass Amherst, is an entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, who most recently founded PBM Capital Group in 2010. It is a healthcare-focused private investment group that looks for opportunities to use its entrepreneurial and operational experience to make high-growth pharmaceutical, molecular diagnostic, gene therapy, life science, health/wellness and consumer product investments.
Manning was also the anchor investor in Maroon Venture Partners, the first venture-capital fund at UMass Amherst. Created in 2017, the fund is a $6 million for-profit investment vehicle created to support alumni, faculty, and student businesses in their early stages.
IALS was established in 2014, supported by a total investment of more than $150 million from the Massachusetts Life Science Center and the campus. The Manning-IALS partnership has enabled a total of 18 UMass-based translational projects since 2019.
Lu-Diaz Awarded Donald Kuhn Graduate Fellowship
Michael Lu-Diaz (DV group) Awarded the Donald Kuhn Graduate Fellowship for outstanding reseaarch, and an interest in pursuing a career in research or teaching.
Research Summary: Chemically doped conjugated polymers comprise a myriad of applications among organic electronics. The chemical doping process consists of introducing a molecule to partially oxidize or reduce a polymer's backbone and create a charge. Although this charge is presumed to be mobile, it experiences a strong, attractive Coulomb interaction with a dopant, ultimately affecting charge transport. I am studying methods to screen this Coulomb interaction and help this charge move. Our experiments and models indicate that the dielectric permittivity is a tunable and crucial parameter to reduce polymer-dopant Coulomb interactions. We used a charge hopping model and fabricated polymer composites with nanocrystals with tunable dielectric permittivity. Ongoing studies focus on understanding how different physical properties of a polymer impact polymer-dopant Coulomb interactions to create more efficient materials.
Zhang Awarded Marvin D. Rausch Fellowship
Xianzhi Zhang (Rotello Group) Awarded the Marvin D. Rausch Fellowship for outstanding research in the area of organic or inorganic chemistry.
Research Summary: Bioorthogonal chemistry uses abiotic chemical processes to create a new toolkit for biological and biomedical applications. Bioorthogonal catalysis via transition metal catalysts (TMCs) provides a particularly promising direction that employs the high catalytic activity and chemical specificity inherent in TMCs. The direct application of TMCs in living cells is challenging due to the generally poor water solubility and instability of these hydrophobic catalysts in biological environments. In the Rotello lab, these issues can be addressed by incorporating TMCs into nanomaterials to generate bioorthogonal “nanozymes”. Nanozymes can activate imaging and therapeutic agents from their inactive precursors, creating on-demand “drug factories”. By engineering surface functionality and size of nanomaterials, I synthesized various nanozymes with biostability and/or stimuli responsiveness. Furthermore, I also designed and synthesized a library of substrates for nanozymes to broaden their applications for bioimaging, cancer chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The therapeutic potential of nanozymes was demonstrated both in vitro and in vivo, creating an anti-cancer treatment with increased efficacy and reduced side effects.
Rotello Remains on the List of Highly Cited Researchers
Assistant Professor - Chemistry - DNA/RNA: The Department of Chemistry, along with the Center for Bioactive Delivery within the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, (IALS, https://www.umass.edu/cbd/) invites applications for a full-time, tenure track faculty position. As the development of new therapeutic molecules shifts toward biologics, we seek applicants who will develop an innovative translational research program focused on the development and/or delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids and/or other functional biologics. Associated topics of interest include, but are not limited to, developing stable versions of biologics and smart delivery of macromolecular therapeutics to target locations. Full description and details.
Eric Ostrander from the DV Research Group has been selected to receive the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NSDEG). The DoD NDSEG Fellowship Program is highly competitive and provides three years of funding to focus on research aligned with the interests of the DoD. Eric’s research focuses on gaining further insight into the factors which allow for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to be selectively used as the energy molecule for muscle function. By using various abiotic triphosphate compounds, Eric probes the role of aromatic stacking interactions and hydrogen bonding on the function of myosin, a molecular motor that transduces chemical energy into mechanical work. The end goal here is to develop innovative synthetic substrates and molecular design paradigms to control the activity of myosin.
You Receives Burlew Award
Assistant Professor Mingxu You was awarded the 2020-21 John S. Burlew Award from the Connecticut Valley Section of the American Chemical Society (CVS-ACS). The Burlew Award was established in 1986 to “recognize outstanding contributions to chemistry by CVS-ACS members”. Dr. You has been recognized for his significant contribution in DNA and RNA nanotechnology and has co-authored over 75 journal articles and 3 book chapters in this field.
Richard (Dick) Stein, 95, passed away June 21, 2021. He joined the Department of Chemistry in 1950 and was central to the development of polymer science research and the creation of the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering. Over the course of his career Stein mentored more than 140 master’s and doctoral candidates.
Stein was a pioneer, wanting to leave the world a better place, and his post-retirement focus was global climate change. He established the Richard and Judy Stein Endowed Fund for Sustainability and Renewable Energy, the first fund on campus to support the university’s efforts on sustainability.
Stein developed the university’s first advanced physical chemistry courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and polymer science, and initiated graduate research in the study of the structure-property relationships of polymers using light and particle scattering.
He is also credited with revolutionizing research funding management at the campus in the 1950s. Grant dollars from federal agencies went directly to the state treasury, not the Amherst campus. With Dean of Science Charles Alexander, Stein helped pass a bill that allowed research money to come directly to the campus.
Stein became Commonwealth Professor, and in 1961 he founded both the Polymer Research Institute and the Research Computing Center. In 1980, the chemistry department awarded him the Charles A. Goessmann Chair in Chemistry and provided three new professorial positions in polymer science and engineering. In the 1990s he was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Memorial services with be held in Amherst, MA at the UMass Campus Center (Marriot Center – 11th Floor) on July 8, 2021.
“What our team has done,” explains Khushboo Singh, a graduate student in the chemistry department and one of the study’s lead authors, “is to combine the advantages of biologics and ADCs and address their weaknesses. It is a new platform for cancer therapy.”
A team of researchers at the Center for Bioactive Delivery at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences has engineered a nanoparticle that has the potential to revolutionize disease treatment, including for cancer. This new research, which appears today in “Angewandte Chemie,”combines two different approaches to more precisely and effectively deliver treatment to the specific cells affected by cancer.
Two of the most promising new treatments involve delivery of cancer-fighting drugs via biologics or antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Each has its own advantages and limitations. Biologics, such as protein-based drugs, can directly substitute for a malfunctioning protein in cells. As a result, they have less serious side effects than those associated with traditional chemotherapy. But, because of their large size, they are unable to get into specific cells. ADCs, on the other hand, are able to target specific malignant cells with microdoses of therapeutic drugs, but the antibodies can only carry a limited drug cargo. Since the drugs are more toxic than biologics, increasing the dose of ADCs increases the risk of harmful side effects.
The team’s approach depends on a nanoparticle the team engineered called a “protein-antibody conjugate,” or PAC. “Imagine that the antibodies in PACs are the address on an envelope,” adds Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan, distinguished professor in chemistry and interim head of biomedical engineering at UMass, “and that the cancer-fighting protein is the contents of that envelope. The PAC allows us to deliver the envelope with its protected treatment to the correct address. So, safer drugs are delivered to the right cell—the result would be a treatment with fewer side effects.”
"Skin-Inspired Organic Electronics"
Mingxu You, assistant professor of chemistry at UMass Amherst, has been awarded one of 16 $100,000 Teacher-Scholar unrestricted awards from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. But when the award e-mail came later that day, he knew it was true. “It was quite an unexpected, and very welcome, surprise” You says. “We are thrilled,” says Rick Metz, head of the chemistry department, “that Mingxu’s dynamic research and teaching have received this recognition.”
The Dreyfus Foundation’s Teacher-Scholar award goes to a handful of early-career chemists who “have each created an outstanding independent body of scholarship, and are deeply committed to education.” You is clearly both. Though he’s early in his career, he’s already authored or co-authored nearly 80 academic articles, and his lab is a hive of activity: it currently hosts ten graduate and five undergraduate students. In the past four years alone, he’s guided 15 undergrads, two postdocs, and five research fellows through advanced chemistry research, and in doing so is helping to introduce the next generation to the joys of chemistry. “The undergrads are getting real training,” say You. “They quickly learn what we’re doing in our lab, and they make real contributions to our experiments.”
For You, there’s a seamless connection between the classroom and the lab. “When I teach undergraduates, I need to revisit the basics of chemistry, and I’m always discovering insights that I had passed over when I was a student.” When one of You’s students joins his lab, they not only bring their classroom education with them, but return to class bearing some of what they discovered in the lab.
“I’d like to thank the hard work of everyone in the You Lab,” says You, for whom UMass has been an ideal research and teaching home. “The environment in the chemistry department is really supportive of early career scholars.”
Each year, the College of Natural Sciences honors its faculty, staff, and student leaders who have made important contributions to their discipline, department, college, and university by presenting them with the Outstanding Achievement Awards. Recipients are nominated by colleagues within the college and chosen by committees chaired by designees appointed by Dean Tricia Serio, who may include past awardees. Of this year’s recipients, Dean Serio remarked, “These leaders continue to enrich our college community with their exceptional work. I am tremendously grateful for their efforts to demonstrate academic excellence, enhance the student experience, and create a more inclusive and accessible learning environment.”
Robert “Bob” Sabola, Instrumentation Engineer, Chemistry was a recipient of the award and commented, "Truly a surprise, maybe even a little shocking, when I learned that I was chosen as a recipient of the CNS Outstanding Achievement Award. It is an honor for me to receive this award. Thank you to all the faculty, staff, and students who contributed to this nomination. I always had the thought that my job is to make the lives of those who are on campus a little bit easier. It’s easy to do when you enjoy what you do for work. As always, it has been a pleasure and joy to have worked for you and with you throughout the years. What more can I say other than thank you."
The 2021 and 2020 CNS Outstanding Achievements Awards Ceremony were combined this year and held virtually. Here is a recording of the event.