NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Texas Materials Institute is proud to announce that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a highly competitive research grant of $2.3 million in total costs to Dr. Yuebing Zheng, for his innovative approach to addressing challenges in biomedical research.

Yuebing Zheng, TMI member and assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, will receive the grant over five years. He is part of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards, established in 2007 to support early-career investigators conducting high-risk, high-impact research. Zheng was one of 55 New Innovators awarded in 2017 and the second from UT Austin. Xiaolu “Lulu” Cambronne, assistant professor of molecular biosciences in the College of Natural Sciences, also received the grant.

“I continually point to this program as an example of the creative and revolutionary research NIH supports,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “The quality of the investigators and the impact their research has on the biomedical field is extraordinary.”

Zheng will apply his grant to develop and optimize lab-on-a-chip technology for studying interactions between cells that help fight cancer and other diseases or play important roles in processes such as the brain network.

Zheng will develop a mobile device for clinicians and researchers to rapidly identify therapeutic antibodies and other high-performance molecules that attach to targets such as cancer cells. The traditional method for testing how well whole cells or biomolecules adhere to each other is a manual and laborious process.

Zheng’s method will exploit a new type of optical manipulation technique that his team developed and which was published this year with preliminary results in the journal ACS Nano. The new technique can trap cells and biomolecules inside a low-power laser beam without requiring expensive or complicated equipment. The light-based nature of Zheng’s system would allow for a miniaturized, adhesion-testing device to be developed on a chip that quickly tests different cells for their sticking capabilities.

“If we can develop a high-throughput technology that allows you to measure the adhesion capability of cells as a stream,” Zheng said, “you could incorporate the adhesion capability as one of the most important parameters for qualifying cell functions into routine assays. As examples of applications, you could efficiently screen therapeutic cells and molecules for the optimum therapy of diseases or other biomolecules for other purposes.”

To learn more about Dr. Zheng and his research, please see his website here.

For more information, contact: Adrienne Lee, Cockrell School of Engineering, 512-471-7541. Original article from Cockrell School of Engineering Communications.