Project summaries of Wellcome grants awarded under the scheme ‘Wellcome Trust-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Postdoctoral Fellowships'.
Supramolecular biomaterials for tissue engineering applications
Eric is working with Professor Robert Langer at MIT developing supramolecular biomaterials for use as a platform for controlled delivery applications for chemical, biological and cell-based therapies. There is great need for such ‘smart’ biomaterials, and this project will build our knowledge of their preparation and characterisation, leading to better materials and more efficient therapies.
Computational drug design and protein interaction specificity
Jeremy is developing and applying molecular modelling techniques at MIT. He is aiming to better understand how the conformational flexibility of proteins affects their binding properties. Interaction specificity is central to addressing side-effects when developing a new medicine. Jeremy has devised a technique to guide molecular dynamics simulations based on limited structural information coming from experiments on drug targets. He has also established a broader framework to improve the strategies used in computational drug design. Jeremy is currently applying these tools to refine inhibitors of Bcl-2 proteins, which are highly influential in the mitochondrial pathway to apoptotic cell death and the cause of several cancers and resistance to cancer treatments.
Imperial College London
Molecular mechanics of bone: probing the collagen/apatite interface
Baptiste’s research focuses on bone nanostructure and modifications induced by bone diseases such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). He combines molecular modelling methods with experimental techniques to identify the nanoscale mechanisms responsible for altering higher-scale mechanical properties. His current research focuses on collagen fibril deformation mechanisms and particularly on the role of cross-linking and mineralisation. He is also studying the influence of chemical modifications on the fracture behaviour of hydroxyapatite crystals present in bone (mainly carbonate substitutions). Baptiste’s goal is to gain insight into the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for bone fragility in order to develop new diagnosis and treatment approaches.
Studying the evolution of gene regulation in a fungal pathogen to identify new potential targets for chemotherapeutic approaches
Rhys is currently based at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. His project aims to study the evolution of virulence factors and their regulatory networks in fungal pathogens, focusing on Cryptococcus gattii. The first stage involves a comparative and population genomics approach for both clinical and environmental isolates from the four subgroups of C. gattii (VGI-VGIV). Gene-expression and transcription-binding datasets will then be generated to study some of the biological pathways implicated in virulence and pathogenicity.
Optical Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (opto-TMS)
Nir’s research at the MIT Media Lab and Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital is dedicated to developing tools to better understand and treat the human brain. In particular, his work focuses on transcranial electromagentic stimulation, in which external fields are used to modify excitability of brain areas and entrain rhythmic synchrony among cortical neural networks. These studies aim to gain insights into the underlying mechanisms of action and explore new principles to achieve better efficacy and specificity in noninvasively modulating cortical as well as subcortical brain regions.
Rational design of brain-permeable imaging agents for molecular MRI in the nervous system
Peter is working in Professor Alan Jasanoff’s groups in the Department of Biological Engineering and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, where he will work on developing MRI contrast agents that are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. While molecular imaging agents are regularly applied in the clinic to aid diagnosis, their current inability to cross into the central nervous system is hindering similar applications in neurology. By systematically designing brain-permeable imaging agents, systems can be developed to enhance our understanding of brain function and ultimately improve diagnosis of neurological diseases.
Towards implementation of a transformative health technology: innovative, whole-system models for rapid, non-invasive telemonitoring of Parkinson’s disease
Max is a mathematician with a background in applied mathematics, statistics, signal processing and computational engineering. His work is applied across disciplines such as biomedicine, extreme rainfall analysis and forecasting, and biophysical signal processing. Max has worked on the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative, in which he and his team developed a cheap and simple tool that uses precision voice analysis software to detect Parkinson’s with high accuracy. His research develops mathematical and computational techniques for remote monitoring of neurological disorders using ubiquitous hardware such as smartphones.
Mechanics of tumour cell extravasation
Uncovering the biological basis of valence-dependent bias
Kaustubh is primarily interested in data analysis and predictive modelling with an emphasis on data-driven techniques, especially applied to biological domains. His work is at the crossroads between psychology and computational analysis, and he is interested, on a broader scale, in human learning and decision making. Kaustubh’s current work, using techniques such as fMRI and MEG, focuses on understanding the neurological basis of human biases and the role of valence, e.g. that people often tend more towards positive information than negative information. He is based in the Sloan Neuroeconomics Laboratory at MIT.
A versatile, minimally invasive treatment for cancer: applying temporal focusing to photodynamic therapy
Chris’s research interests include the interaction of light and biomedicine. He is currently focused on the development of high-resolution optically targeted photodynamic therapy for oncological and wound-cleaning applications, as well as designing and building a superresolution microscope to rapidly map every neuron and synapse in Drosophila and mouse brains, to obtain complete connectomes for both species. Chris is also helping to design a new Forster Resonance Energy Transfer probe to image heme for application in malaria research, performing microscopic ablation of tissues to develop well-defined and innervated muscles within a microfluidic device, and developing high-throughput instrumentation to spectroscopically image the resection margin in Mohs micrographic surgery.