Engineering, UNMC faculty partner to further biomedical research

Engineering, UNMC faculty partner to further biomedical research

A research project between Angela Pannier and Andrew Dudley is one of three UNL/UNMC collaborations funded through the Bioengineering for Human Health Grants Initiative. Funds for the program are provided by vice chancellors for research on both campuses.

University of Nebraska engineers and doctors are teaming up across campus lines to advance bioengineering research.

The project — Bioengineering for Human Health Grants Initiative — is a joint effort funded by vice chancellors for research at UNL and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Three research groups have been funded through the initiative.

“What we are doing is trying to build interdisciplinary groups that can work together in key research areas,” said Nora Sarvetnick, professor and director of the Nebraska Regenerative Medicine Project at UNMC. “The idea is to identify projects and teams that would be competitive in pursuit of (National Institutes of Health) funding.”

The initiative grew from discussions Sarvetnick had two years ago with Tim Wei, dean of engineering.

The first research team to receive funding was UNL’s Angela Pannier and UNMC’s Andrew Dudley. The duo — who previously crossed research paths at Northwestern University — is working to grow knee cartilage. “The challenge in setting up this type of collaboration is that we come at a problem from two different perspectives,” Pannier said. “I’ve had collaborations not work out for that very reason. But this one is going quite well.

“We don’t always speak the same language, but we work through the issues because we have the same end goal.”

Sarvetnick said that the successful combination of differing research perspectives often leads to scientific breakthroughs.

“When you are solving problems, it is important to look at them through different approaches,” Sarvetnick said. “Using engineering techniques that a biologist doesn’t use — and vice versa — provides a more well-rounded picture. And, quite often, that type of collaboration opens doors.”

Other UNL researchers working with UNMC colleagues through the initiative are Yongfeng Lu, Tian Zhang and Zangjin Ryu. All three are researching breast cancer.

All involved are given courtesy appointments at the partner university. Primary research lab and office space is being provided by UNMC in the Durham Research Center. Pannier is housed within the Mary and Dick Holland Regenerative Medicine Program.

“Offering space and giving courtesy appointments have helped everyone feel at home,” Pannier said. “That’s important because it would be strange to feel like I was coming here to sit in someone else’s office and work in someone else’s lab. Those details are why this is a successful initiative.”

Pannier said student researchers, who make the trip to UNMC up to three times a week, are reimbursed for their time. And, the teams hold regular meetings, often splitting the travel distance and gathering at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park.

Each grant is $100,000 and designed to help the research efforts build a solid base to pursue additional funding.

“This same sort of collaborative initiative is happening at a few other places nationwide,” Sarvetnick said. “But we are really trying to promote competitive research projects that will lead to more opportunities in the future.”


Research Teams

Detection of Breast Tumor Tissue Margins Using Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopic

UNL — Tian Zhang, civil engineering; Yongfeng Lu, electrical engineering

UNMC — Hamid Band, Vimla Band, Edibaldo Silva-Lopez and William West

Biomechanical and Gradient Factors that Promote Plate Architecture in Alginate Hydrogel 3-D Matrices

UNL — Angela Pannier, biological systems engineering

UNMC — Andrew Dudley

Breast Cancer Stem Cell Regulation by ECM Mechanics

UNL — Sangjin Ryu, mechanical and materials engineering

UNMC — Hamid Band and Vimla Band