Yang Xia, M.D., Ph.D.
Yang Xia, M.D., Ph.D.

Three teams of McGovern Medical School and Rice University faculty members received inaugural joint seed grant awards to study children’s health.

This new grant program aims to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary research programs among faculty members at McGovern Medical School and Rice University. The emphasis of the program is on developing new collaborations between Rice University and McGovern Medical School for research on women or children’s health. A review panel selected the winning proposals based on scientific merit, the strength of interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration through subsequent competitive, peer-reviewed funding.

Each team will receive a mini-seed grant of up to $60,000 for its interdisciplinary research program.

This first group of winners includes:

Matthew T. Harting, M.D.
Matthew T. Harting, M.D.

Matthew T. Harting. M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Surgery, is working with Jane Grande-Allen, Ph.D., the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering at Rice. He is collaborating with Grande-Allen on a new therapy to help treat infants born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), or a hole in the diaphragm. This birth defect occurs in one in 2,500 children and leads to abnormal development of the blood vessels in the lungs The researchers will conduct experiments to learn more about the extracellular matrix, which is a specific part of the blood vessel that provides underlying structure in the lungs and may have an important role in CDH. The researchers also will focus on using special cellular secretions called extracellular vesicles as a therapy to control the changes in the extracellular matrix.

Yang Xia, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, is working with Gang Bao, Ph.D., the Foyt Family Professor of Bioengineering at Rice. She is collaborating with Bao on a genome editing-based treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD) in children. This genetic disease, caused by a mutation in the beta-globin gene, affects millions of people worldwide. In particular, 50 to 80 percent of infants born with SCD in Africa die before the age of 5. The researchers hope to develop a genetic therapy that disrupts genes that are associated with the sickling of oxygen-carrying red blood cells and sickle cell disease progression using the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) nuclease. Their goal is to reduce the morbidity and mortality of patients with the disease.

Ramesha Papanna, M.D.
Ramesha Papanna, M.D.

Ramesha Papanna, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, is collaborating with Michael Diehl, Ph.D., an associate professor of bioengineering and of chemistry at Rice, on regenerative wound healing to repair the defect caused by spina bifida while infants are still in the womb. Spina bifida is a birth defect that prevents complete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. The researchers will apply multi-parameter imaging strategies to identify and characterize interactions among several key types of cells that drive wound-healing responses within patch materials that Papanna has been developing to repair spinal defects. These analyses will provide important insights and a much-needed guide to design patch materials and optimize their use for spinal repair.

The opportunity for these seed grants became available by an announcement on Rice University’s Creative Ventures Funds website established by Provost Marie Lynn Miranda to alert faculty about resources to support creative scholarship and research. For more information, visit https://creativeventures.rice.edu/