“Dr. Yang Yun, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Dr. Jie Zheng, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, were granted CAREER awards totaling $850,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF-wide Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers awards supporting faculty researchers at the beginning of their careers.””
Dr. Yang Yun, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Dr. Jie Zheng, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, were granted CAREER awards totaling $850,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF-wide Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers awards supporting faculty researchers at the beginning of their careers.Yun’s research could transform nonviral gene therapy from basic research to clinical applications.Yun is investigating the mechanisms of DNA shuttling and transport into a cell’s nucleus. A $450,000 NSF award to principal investigator Yun and his research team will help breathe new life into gene therapy through their investigation into the relationship of structural morphologies and DNA-complex dimensions with nuclear entry.With the hypothesis that some DNA complexes are too large to enter a cell’s nucleus through its pores, this research involves engineering DNA complexes at the nanoscale level to control their sizes and structural conformations, Yun said, noting that such research could transform nonviral gene therapy from basic research to clinical applications.If successful, breakthrough findings could prove nonviral delivery systems as effective as viruses, said Yun, who earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at State University of New York at Stony Brook before joining UA in 2004.Zheng received a $400,000 NSF award to develop a multiscale modeling and simulation platform. This platform will integrate structural prediction, computational biology and bioinformatics to establish a direct correlation at the molecular level, between oligomer structures (molecules formed from a few smaller and identical molecules joined together) and their biological activity in cell membranes.Findings from Dr. Jie Zheng’s research could be used in the fight against such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Diabetes II.This is important for understanding the molecular mechanism of protein tion and lysis, said Zheng, who joined UA in 2007 after he worked as a scientist for the National Cancer Institute upon earning his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Washington. Both research projects involve collaboration with undergraduate and graduate students, outreach to K-12 students and teachers and mentorships. Ultimately, these outreach efforts aim to interest students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) as career paths.These NSF awards are widely regarded within academic institutions and the larger scientific community as most prestigious for young investigators, and are typically awarded to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research,says Dr. George K. Haritos, dean of the UA College of Engineering. These research efforts led by Dr. Yun and Dr. Zheng could have a significant influence on society.