Four Rice scientists earn Dunn research grants

Four Rice University scientists have been awarded grants from the John S. Dunn Collaborative Research Awards to work on projects with scientists from other nearby institutions.

Rice University bioengineer Jane Grande-Allen will team with University of Texas cardiovascular geneticist Dianna Milewicz to study the causes of heart disease. The pair will focus specifically on developing a miniature mechanical tester and an organ culture bioreactor to study the live tissue of rodent heart valves. Through these methods, the scientists hope to learn more about how defective heart valves develop and how doctors might be able to better treat the condition.

Rice bioscientist Julia Saltz and Baylor College of Medicine geneticist Herman Dierick will experiment with the genetics of fruit flies to examine the influence genetics have on the efficacy of drugs that treat aggression. The study will also whether there may or may not be a specific segment of the genetic code that's responsible for human aggression.

Rice bioengineer Jeffrey Tabor and Baylor College of Medicine geneticist Meng Wang will use their research grant to engineer higher than normal concentrations of a gastrointestinal bacteria that may cause humans to live longer. When introduced to roundworms, the bacteria has been shown to extend the life of the worms by 25 percent. Tabor and Meng will work together to see if the same result can be produced in mice, which would suggest the possibility of applying the approach to people.

Rice bioscientist Aryeh Warmflash and Baylor biophysicist Ido Golding will try to understand how cells with identical DNA eventually turn into different body organs. By studying a special type of cell culture that mimics the patterns found in the human embryo, Warmflash and Golding hope to better understand the step-by-step process that transforms these identical cells into organs.

The Dunn grants have been awarded annually since 2008 and are worth up to $100,000 each.

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