2007 S&T Fund Awards

Dr. Robert Finberg – UMass Medical School – UMass Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. Funds will be used to initiate facilities planning and research program development for the system-wide Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. The Institute will include a set of core user facilities to enable investigations performed by UMass faculty and their partners and will support the recently announced Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank, which was proposed by Governor Patrick as a key component of the Commonwealth’s Life Sciences Initiative. The bank is envisaged to be the world’s largest repository of stem cell lines and will provide access to human embryonic stem cells and related products to scientists worldwide. Core facilities to be developed by the Institute include human embryonic stem cell production and gene silencing cores at UMMS and an animal embryonic stem cell core at Amherst. As it becomes fully operational, the Institute will directly support faculty recruitment and research on all UMass campuses. Combined with the infrastructure investments to develop the bank and core facilities, this will effectively position the Commonwealth and UMass at the forefront of emerging field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Amount awarded: $300,000.

Professor T.J. (Lakis) Mountziaris – UMass Amherst – UMass NanoMed Institute. The UMass NanoMedicine Institute is a multi-disciplinary collaborative effort of a dozen investigators across three campuses, aimed at developing novel fluorescent, magnetic, and biodegradable nanostructures for applications in medical diagnostics and therapeutics. An initial program consisting of three projects is being pursued. Each effort involves engineering of biomolecule-functionalized nanomaterials and using them to advance medical research. The first will create fluorescent biosensors that will enable understanding of the underlying mechanisms and treatment of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases. The second project will pursue a strategy for neutralizing viral infections and separating viruses from blood and tissues through the use of magnetic nanomaterials bound to virus receptors. The third project will employ a biodegradable immunogenic nanomaterial in the development of a novel vaccine for malaria. Broad applications beyond the three specific projects are envisioned and additional projects in the areas of personalized medicine, point-of-care diagnostics and biodefense-related research will be pursued in collaboration with academic and industrial partners. Amount awarded: $200,000.

Professors Brian Levine and Prashant Shenoy – UMass Amherst – Massachusetts Center for Networked Sensing in Challenged Environments (NetSenCE). The core technology mission of the center is to develop affordable, robust, easily deployable wireless sensor networks and platforms, with an emphasis on marine (surface, sub-surface and ocean floor) and terrestrial environments. The center’s efforts will accelerate ongoing federally-funded collaborations between Amherst and WHOI, focused on integrating Amherst’s expertise in a range of networking technologies with WHOI’s capabilities in acoustic communications and use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which will serve as one host network platform. System partners include Lowell, which brings significant expertise in sensor networking, and Dartmouth, which has strong collaborations with WHOI in the development and deployment of AUVs. The center’s program is synergistic with the efforts of UMass Boston’s Center for Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks, an effort supported through the 2006-07 S&T Initiatives Fund competition. Given the broad shift in environmental research toward the use of mobile sensornets with mixed RF (radio frequency)-acoustic links and mobile platforms over expansive geographic ranges, significant opportunities exist for the center to partner with companies in the marine, communications, and IT clusters. Amount awarded: $175,000.

Professor Marguerite Zarrillo – UMass Dartmouth – University Collaborative for Intelligent Transportation Systems. The system-wide collaboration for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) will leverage existing expertise on all four UMass non-medical campuses around solutions to improve transportation mobility, efficiency, safety security and accessibility. The collaborative will work closely with state and local transportation officials and other stakeholders to identify and undertake research on a number of high-priority challenges, such as development of statewide integrated payment system (toll road, parking, transit), statewide deployment of an advanced traveler information system, development of emergency evacuation plans for at-risk areas of the state, and development and deployment of intelligent sensor technologies for a wide range of transportation applications. In addition to its research program, another major goal of the collaborative is the development of a system-wide transportation engineering education program which will provide undergraduate and graduate students with relevant research and training opportunities. Amount awarded: $160,000.

Professor Kyle McInnis – UMass Boston – Advancing Technology-based Interdisciplinary Health Promotion Research. The goal of the center, which is a collaboration with Children’s Hospital Boston, is to advance the underlying science and clinical practice of youth health and fitness promotion. The crisis in youth obesity and its related medical conditions in the U.S. and across the industrialized world is reaching epidemic proportions, prompting significant investment by public and private health agencies. The center will establish a niche area of expertise focusing on the use of interactive gaming technologies as a strategy to increase fitness and reduce obesity. Partnerships with industry, including a number of Massachusetts-based companies, will focus on the development and evaluation of technology-based health promotion tools and equipment. Funds will be used to develop the data collection and management infrastructure to support the center’s research program, including creation of valid data collection protocols for participants and construction and management of a database system that be used for a range of cross-sectional and longitudinal research studies. The data system is a key mechanism for enabling interdisciplinary collaborations among medical, public health, epidemiological and exercise science researchers. Amount awarded: $120,000.

Professor Holly Yanco – UMass Lowell – Center for Human-Robot Interaction. The robotics industry cluster in Massachusetts has begun to emerge, with roughly 150 companies and research institutions in the state employing more than 1,500 people, according to the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC). One challenge to growth for the industry regionally and nationally is making robots easier to use when operators have little or no technical training. The center focuses on research and evaluation in the field of human-robot interaction (HRI), building on a proven track record of helping local companies improve their products. Core capabilities include articulating human-robot design and interaction principles, building system-level support to enable effective HRI, and defining new evaluation methods. Work at the center will emphasize two application domains: urban search and rescue and assistive technologies for disabled individuals. The center will also expand ongoing education activities for both undergraduate/graduate students and K-12 students and engage MassTLC to support its cluster development activities. Amount awarded: $120,000.

Professor Dennis Goeckel – UMass Amherst – Center for Excellence in Wireless Communications. The center will leverage campus expertise across a number of departments (electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and industrial engineering, and computer science) to implement a broad research program that builds on expertise in signal processing, networking and protocols and spectrum utilization. An initial agenda of three research projects has been identified: wireless system security, wideband wireless system design, and network synchronization. Working closely with established Massachusetts and national companies and with the venture capital community, faculty/industry working groups will be established in each area and large-scale federal funding opportunities will be pursued. The center will also expand its industry partnership base by working closely with the Massachusetts Network Communications Council. Amount awarded: $100,000.