Duke Research Teams Win Keck Futures Initiatives Grants

April 12, 2006

Two research teams led by Duke faculty have been granted $75,000 each from the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative in support of interdisciplinary research on genomics and infectious disease. Duke won two grants out of a total of 14 awarded.

Debra Schwinn, professor of anesthesiology, pharmacology/cancer biology and surgery at the School of Medicine, leads a team developing an inexpensive diagnostic for malaria using combined nanotechnology and genomic approaches. With this project, the researchers will develop an inexpensive field diagnostic test to detect active malaria infection in a remote field setting where little electricity or medical expertise are available. The diagnostic tool uses microfluidics, nanotechnology, and genomics to diagnose the type and drug resistance of malaria parasites in humans.

The team includes electrical and computer engineering professors Nan Jokerst and Richard Fair of Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, and electrical engineering Assistant Professor Mihri Ozkan of the University of California at Riverside. Schwinn is also the program director of cardiovascular genomics in the Institute for Genome Science & Policy.

A biomedical engineering team is developing "microbial swarmbots" for medical applications. The team of Assistant Professor Lingchong You and Professor Kam Leong will develop the swarmbots as a platform technology for delivery of bioactive agents to combat infectious diseases. A microbial swarmbot is a small population of bacterial cells that are autonomously regulated by synthetic gene circuits and are encapsulated in microcapsules built from synthetic or natural polymers.

You, in collaboration with Leong and biomedical engineering Professor George Truskey has established a "Microbial Swarmbots" working group comprised of faculty, students and postdocs working on various aspects of the technology development. You is a member of Duke’s Institute for Genome Science & Policy.

Funded by a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research in areas considered risky or unusual. The Futures Initiative provides seed funding that specifically fosters the identification and exploration of new research topics and aims to serve as a counterbalance to specialization and isolation.