Category: biomedicine

$10m NIH grant to Center for Biomedical Glycomics


Glycocalix slide photo digitizedGlycobiology is very complex science - the study the structures, biosynthesis and biology of the sugar chains, or glycans, that are essential components in all living things. Glycans have been the focus of much attention by UGA researchers recently, and now glycobiology is at the center of big new NIH grant to another team of Franklin College researchers:

Researchers at the University of Georgia have received a five-year, $10.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support the National Center for Biomedical Glycomics, a consortium of UGA faculty and staff working to develop new technologies for the analysis of glycans.

Glycans are sugar molecules that coat the surface of every living cell. Once thought to be relatively unimportant, scientists now recognize that glycans play critical roles in cell regulation, human health and disease progression.

"This is a big piece of the human disease pie that science is only beginning to explore," said Michael Pierce, NCBG principal investigator and member of UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. "The tide is starting to turn, and researchers are beginning to appreciate how important these sugar molecules are, so our glycomics center exists to develop the technologies and tools to investigate these critical structures."

Our understanding of basic science and its impact on human health continues to grow, and we are indebted to the teams of UGA researchers and the university, which has made interdisciplinary research a reality by developing the facilities for it to thrive. And again, the federal funding mechanisms play such an important role in this work, incentiving work in basic science research that can potentially benefit the widest population, work that itself might be left on the table for generations in a private-sector R & D environment. This process of discovery itself is a complex system, but this consortium is a terrific signal that it is working.

Image: Glycocalix bei Bacillus Anthracis, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, via Wikimedia Commons.

Graduate Student Research Conference


grad students with posters

Franklin students share scientific research at symposium        

By Jessica Luton

Scientific research, and plenty of it, was on display this week at an interdisciplinary conference on UGA’s Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences. The 5th Annual Scientific Research Day, as it is known, is put together each year by the Graduate Students and Postdocs in Science (GSPS), a campus organization that came together a few years ago to help graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in science gain professional development.

The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences was well represented by students from the departments of chemistry, geology, genetics, microbiology and marine sciences, to name a few, but there were many students representing departments all over campus. 

The symposium featured poster sessions and oral presentations by students, as well as a captivating keynote address by Harvard Medical School neurobiologist David Clapham, entitled “Spermatozoa, Cilia and the Struggle of Existence.”

An annual interdisciplinary graduate research conference in the sciences is what you might expect to find on a campus like ours. Yet still I was thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm on disply – for conducting research, making new discoveries and solving real world problems. Participation in a conference of this sort really helps students blur the boundaries between disciplines, learn from each other and think about things in new and different ways. 

One presentation given by Ashley Askew, a postdoctoral student at the Warnell School of Forrestry with a Ph.D. from Franklin’s department of statistics, was exemplary of the value of interdisciplinary conferences and knowledge exchange. 

Her project focused on a regional comparison of recreational activities through the year 2060, with climate change as a quantifiable factor in her projections, but her methodology, which she explained in great detail, could be used with any sort of research that assesses demand and forecasts trends, she said. 

Clapham’s keynote address at the end of the symposium expanded on the benefits of an interdisciplinary learning and dresearch environment. Trained as an electrical engineer at Georgia Tech, he obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. from Emory University and has continued his marriage of interdisciplinary study throughout his career. 

He completed his residency in internal medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and his post-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen, Germany. After several years on the faculty at the Mayo Clinic, he moved to the Children’s Hospital in Boston, where he directs cardiovascular research, and is a professor of nNeurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Clapham’s research focuses on the role of calcium as a messenger within the cell and between cells, and identifying and characterizing ion channels in the body. His previous research has focused on calcium and ion channel, in regards to developing drugs to alleviate cardiac arrhythmias, but his talk at the symposium focused on fertility, the role of calcium and a gene known as CATSPER that plays an integral part in human reproduction and could lead to a new way to offer birth control without the use of hormones. The research is fascinating and you can read more about his lab here and here

I came away from the event with one overarching point: sharing knowledge and being unafraid to enter into new realms of learning only increases your ability to be a better researcher, no matter what your discipline. 

In the exchange of knowledge, attendees have the opportunity to learn from one another, advance research and offer fresh takes on topics in new and novel ways.   And that’s certainly something to be applauded. Kudos to GSPS for a great symposium.  Be sure to check out the abstracts of this year’s participants at the GSPS website and view the winners of this year’s symposium over at the Red and Black.  

Franklin physicists invent near infrared-emitting material


panzhengwei.jpgUGA news service reports on newly published work by physics and astronomy faculty member, Zhengwei Pan:

Materials that emit visible light after being exposed to sunlight are commonplace and can be found in everything from emergency signage to glow-in-the-dark stickers. But until now, scientists have had little success creating materials that emit light in the near-infrared range, a portion of the spectrum that only can be seen with the aid of night vision devices.

In a paper just published in the early online edition of the journal Nature Materials, however, University of Georgia scientists describe a new material that emits a long-lasting, near-infrared glow after a single minute of exposure to sunlight. Lead author Zhengwei Pan, associate professor of physics and engineering in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, said the material has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics, give the military and law enforcement agencies a "secret" source of illumination and provide the foundation for highly efficient solar cells.

"When you bring the material anywhere outside of a building, one minute of exposure to light can create a 360-hour release of near-infrared light," Pan said. "It can be activated by indoor fluorescent lighting as well, and it has many possible applications."