GEARSC EPSCoR/IDeA Program announces 2018 GEAR Collaborative Research Program (CRP) recipients

For Immediate Release
May 8, 2018

(Columbia, SC) The SC EPSCoR/IDeA State Office is pleased to announce the grant recipients of the 2018 GEAR CRP Program.

The goal of the GEAR CRP (Collaborative Research Program) is to encourage faculty researchers at the three South Carolina comprehensive research universities (CRUs), Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina; and predominately undergraduate institutions (PUIs) to build collaborative CRU/PUI academic research teams that will compete effectively for research funding. GEAR CRP grants will be awarded to build and enhance the network of scientists in the state that will develop thrust-based research clusters associated with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track 1-Award entitled, Materials Assembly and Design Excellence in South Carolina (MADE in SC).

The vision of MADE in SC is to discover and establish new and sustainable approaches for the design and assembly of hierarchical materials at multiple relevant length scales that service South Carolina’s STEM research, education, and workforce needs and invigorate economic development. The focus of this initiative is to discover and develop new intelligently designed optical and magnetic materials, stimuli-responsive polymeric materials, and interactive biomaterials, all supported by a newly-created Multiscale Modeling and Computation Core.

Five awards with a maximum budget of $50,000 each have been made to:

Konstantin Kornev – Lead PI (Clemson University) with Ekatrina Michonova (Erskine College)
The effect of physical and chemical signals on cellular behavior across multiple scales

WeThe use of the recently developed Magnetic Rotational Spectroscopy with magnetic nanorods, coupled with the surface analysis on nanoliter droplets of insect blood, plus computer simulations and modeling, will allow to unveil the role of lipid particles as physical and chemical cues probing the surfaces and influencing cellular behavior across a range of length scales from the nanolevel to the organism. In parallel the lipid-containing particles and their assemblies will be investigated with the state-of-the-art computational approaches to predict protonation states of ionizable groups and thus the net charge. Performing such modeling on such large system is only possible due to advanced computing resources in Clemson University, the Palmetto supercomputer. The results will be used to carry out Zeta-potential calculations and molecular dynamics simulations that have never been done before on systems with such large dimensions.

Jay Potts – Lead PI (USC School of Medicine) with Mark Uline (University of South Carolina) and Matthew Stern (Winthrop University)
Modeling interactive biomaterial effects on self-organizing tissues

One of the main challenges in tissue engineering is the creation of a suitable milieu for which cells (such as stem cells) can be seeded, grown, and induced to differentiate as they do in vivo toward the creation of a complex tissue or organ. But in order to create such structures, it’s essential to first determine the cellular responses to these bioactive materials. The advancement of new smart scaffolds and bioactive materials for creating complex tissues is progressing rapidly. However, it’s crucial for true tissue representation to examine the cellular responses and behaviors to these materials. Our previous studies demonstrated that by placing the cells on top of collagen hydrogels as compared to mixing them inside resulted in two different self-assembling orientations of the cells To have a predictive molecular model that would assist in determining the likelihood of how cells are liable to behave given tissue parameters, would be a major step forward moving from benchtop to bedside. High resolution time lapse microscopy to image cell-ECM receptors on the cells migrating and forming a toroid will allow for correlation with previous genetic responses and allow for predictive models to be formulated. Furthermore, the mechanisms that cancer cells use compared to normal cells is ongoing in the lab and initial genetic differences during culturing has been accomplished. Developing a suitable model of cancer progression would allow for rapid screening of treatment regimens and speed the ability to identify therapies for various cancer types. This proposal brings together three successful investigators, Drs. Potts, Uline and Stern, with expertise in tissue engineering, molecular modeling and stem cells and utilizes two USC cores, the Microarray Core Facility and Modeling and Computational Core, to investigate these vital phenomena.

Kenneth Shimizu – Lead PI (University of South Carolina) with Sheri Strickland (Converse College)
Programmable Polymers based on restricted rotation formed by free radical polymerization

Proposed is a collaboration to design and synthesize new types of stimuli-responsive polymers. The binding and recognition properties of these polymers can be programmed and reprogrammed by heating in the presence of different guest molecules. The unique property of the polymers is the ability to remember the guest-induced properties even when the guest (stimuli) has been removed. The key is the development of monomers containing molecular rotors that will only rotate on heating. Prof. Shimizu’s group has previously demonstrated the viability of this approach (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 131 (2009) 12062–12063). Proposed is the extension of this approach to polymers prepared by free-radical polymerization (FRP). This will enable improved control over the material properties and adaptation to a broader range of applications because a wider array of free radical polymerizable co-monomers are commercially available and FRP methods have been successfully used in many applications. The project objectives will be: 1) to computationally design and synthesize new molecular rotors capable of being incorporated into polymers via free radical polymerization, 2) to prepare polymers containing the new molecular rotors, 3) to characterize the stimuli-responsive and memory properties of the polymers. Methods to be used in these studies include: computational modeling, organic synthesis, polymer synthesis, and polymer/materials characterization.

Qi Wang – Lead PI (University of South Carolina) with Yi Sun (University of South Carolina) and Gurcan Comert (Benedict College)
A Hybrid Discrete-Continuum Model for Simulating Sprouting Angiogenesis in 3D Biofabrication

The innovation of this research project lies in 1) modeling the angiogenic signaling pathways in cell-cell and cell-matrix interaction through a system of reaction and RD equations for the micro-environmental concentration fields of VEGF and nutrients/oxygen; 2) modeling cellular responses to the gradient of the chemoattractant via concentrations fields; 3) coupling the reaction and RD systems to the agent-based KMC model via multiscale protocols to study sprouting angiogenesis and cellular aggregate fusion eventually leading to morphogenesis in tissue formation; 4) coupling deep learning tools to calibrate interaction energies. With this model, the PIs target on the mechanism for sprouting angiogenesis due to the signaling capability of regulatory proteins and the consequential cellular activities, and then explore the connection between sprouting angiogenesis and tissue formation. The models will be validated by comparing results with benchmark simulations and experimental data. This modeling approach will set a paradigm for investigating cellular aggregate fusion and tissue/organ fabrication in general by incrementally incorporating additional significant protein dynamics identified by experiments and their mechanochemical coupling to intercellular mechanics.

Qian Wang – Lead PI (University of South Carolina) with Hong Jiang (Benedict College) and Li Cai (USC Lancaster)
Multivalent Cell Recognition through Galectins using Virus Nanoparticles

The proposed research is based on the polyvalent features of VNPs and their robust bioconjugation chemistries. VNPs will be employed as the nano-sized carrier to display carbohydrate ligands, which will help us explore how lectins and their complimentary carbohydrate interact with each other through optimal ligand organization (i.e. ligand distribution and clustering, virus coating density, surface coverage and accessibility). The successful execution of this research program will define a new paradigm in the cell – cell recognition process and may also be possible to alter cell attachment and out-growth behavior, which will contribute to the field of cell biology and material science in general and to the field of glycobiology in particular. The proposed design can also be readily modulated to incorporate various cell surface receptor-specific ligands. Finally, we envision this project will be the first step to develop an efficient computational tool for a better describing and understanding of the cellular responses, which will contribute uniquely to the Multiscale Modeling and Computational Core (MCC) of the MADE in SC program.

MADE in SC is supported by the National Science Foundation Award #OIA-1655740.

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Contact Information

Media inquiries should be made to: Cyndy Buckhaults, Communications Manager, email, (803) 546-4569
General inquiries regarding this program should be made to: April Heyward, MRA, Program Manager, email, (803) 733-9068