Four School of Medicine faculty were among the nine winners of inaugural Duke Science and Technology (DST) Spark Seed grants named by the Office for Research & Innovation on July 20. The awards recognize best-in-class research projects proposed by early- to mid-career faculty from across campus and the School of Medicine. The nine awardees were selected from a pool of 52 finalists for delivering innovative and creative ideas in pursuit of new directions and enhancement of research and scholarship at Duke.
“As new scientific discoveries and breakthroughs continue to surface at Duke, we’re excited by the novel ideas that our faculty have for tackling the world’s most pressing challenges through research” said Jenny Lodge, Duke’s vice president for Research & Innovation. “The proposals of this year’s DST Spark Seed Grants winners embody how research can improve lives — and we look forward to each PI’s accomplishments over the next year.”
2022 DST Spark Seed Grant winning projects and faculty from the School of Medicine are:
Field: Biostatistics and Bioinformatics
Project: Using Deep Learning to Train a Single-molecule DNA Sequencer to Accurately Identify DNA Lesions
PI: Raluca Gordan, PhD, Associate Professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Computer Science, and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Raluca Gordan, PhD, is developing machine learning techniques for sequencing damaged DNA, which standard DNA sequencing technologies can’t handle. She hopes to use these techniques to better understand how proteins bind to damaged sites within the human genome and inhibit their repair, and whether this binding process gives rise to mutations that can lead to diseases such as cancer.
Field: Cell Biology
Project: Synchronized Clocks in Zebrafish Patterning
PI: Stefano Di Talia, PhD, Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Orthopaedics
Stefano Di Talia, PhD, an associate professor of cell biology, will be studying oscillations that act as timekeepers for the regular patterning of vertebral segments in zebrafish. His group has recently discovered an oscillator that might dictate the time at which precursors of the vertebrae begin to form. The group hopes to establish the molecular mechanisms of these oscillations and build enough data from this work in zebrafish to secure greater grant funding.
Field: Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Project: Interrogating Subcellular Gene Expression in the Developing Brain
PI: Debra Silver, PhD, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Cell Biology, and Neurobiology
Debra Silver, PhD, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, will be studying the localization of messenger RNA and localized gene translation in nervous system cells. These processes are key to guiding new connections in a developing brain and are particularly focused in just one part of neural progenitor cells. The project will be trying to develop a new technology to measure and control gene expression in just one part of the cell. Developing a new technology is not typically funded by NIH, but mastering the technique could open up many new grant opportunities and be valuable for understanding local gene expression in systems beyond the brain.
Project: Harnessing Female Resilience Factors to Promote Renal Repair
PI: Tomokazu Souma, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine
Tomokazu Souma, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of nephrology and affiliate of the Duke Regeneration Center, will be using human-derived kidney organoids – organs in a dish – to identify new therapies to improve kidney repair and regeneration. Specifically, his lab hopes to follow up on a recent finding that females have greater resistance to acute kidney injury. They would like to see if these ‘female resistance factors’ could be harnessed to treat kidney disease.
The winners of 2022 DST Spark Seed Grants from other departments are:
Field: Biomedical Engineering
Project: Enabling Unbiased Discovery of Force-Sensitive Protein-Protein Interactions
PI: Brenton Hoffman, PhD, James L. and Elizabeth M. Vincent Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Field: Environmental Science and Policy
Project: New Dimensions in Tropical Ecology: Megafaunal Effects on Biogeochemical Cycling in 3-D
PI: John Poulsen, PhD, Associate Professor of Tropical Ecology
Field: Marine Science and Conservation
Project: Revenue Positive Carbon Dioxide Removal Enabled by Carbonate Conversion and Marine Algae Bioproducts
PI: Zackary Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology in Marine Sciences
Project: Integration of Metabolomics and Proteomics Platforms to Resolve Rad6 Roles in Energy Production and Stress Resistance
PI: Gustavo Silva, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology
Field: Public Policy
Project: K-12 Educational Inequality and Public Policy Preferences
PI: Sarah Komisarow, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Economics
To learn more about the Duke Science and Technology (DST) Spark Seed Grant winners, visit Duke Today