UW2020 Funding Awarded to Two Chemistry Research and Infrastructure Projects

Two Department of Chemistry proposals were among the 21 selected for the latest round of UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative awards. The awards include eight infrastructure projects and 13 research projects that cross multiple divisions on campus.

A total of 104 faculty from across the university reviewed the 119 submitted projects. The 16-member UW2020 Council then ranked the proposals. Final selections were made by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education leadership.

The 21 funded projects include 137 faculty from 10 schools and colleges. Projects are funded for two years with the average award totaling $372,923.

The recent awards represent the third round of UW2020 funded projects since the initiative was launched last year. This year’s awards bring the total UW2020 projects funded to date to 49.

The goal of UW2020 is to stimulate and support cutting edge, highly innovative and groundbreaking research at UW–Madison and the acquisition of shared instruments or equipment that will open new avenues for innovative and significant research.

“These awards position our faculty to be even more successful as they apply for extramural funding in an increasingly competitive environment,” says Marsha Mailick, UW–Madison vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “Innovative ideas like those proposed for UW2020 are critical to maintaining UW–Madison’s world-class research standing, and we are extremely grateful for WARF’s continuing support for this initiative.”

The Graduate School is supplying direct support for research assistants. Additional contributions are provided by UW-Extension and the Morgridge Institute for Research.

The two Department of Chemistry projects funded in the latest round of UW2020 are:

Anti-Virulence Approaches to Prevent Bacterial Infection and Combat Evolved Resistance in Next-Generation Wound Dressings
Principal Investigator: Professor Helen Blackwell
Collaborators: Professor Charles Czuprynski, Professor David Lynn, Professor Jonathan McAnulty

Bacterial infections pose persistent and costly threats in many healthcare, commercial, and industrial applications. In the contexts of clinical care and emergency medicine, traditional therapies often involve lengthy hospital stays and prolonged outpatient care with multiple painful dressing changes, and the risks of bacterial infections and other associated diseases are high. While antibacterial agents are widely used to prevent and treat infections in these contexts, the current arsenal of conventional antibiotics has been almost completely depleted by the emergence of drug-resistant bacterial strains.

Bacterial resistance arises from the fact that conventional antibiotics target pathways that are essential for the survival of the organism. In contrast, ‘anti-virulence’ approaches target bacterial infectivity and not bacterial growth. These non-bactericidal strategies could reduce drug-resistant mutations, and thus represent a potential paradigm shift in the treatment of bacterial infections. This project uses an anti-virulence approach to target the release of synthetic peptide-based quorum sensing (QSIs) with the goal of developing the next-generation of polymer-coated skin wound dressings and other materials such as creams and salves.

QS is a chemical signaling process and widespread in many common pathogens. The concentration of QS signals in a given environment is largely proportional to the number of bacteria present. When bacteria reach a sufficiently high population density, productive signal-protein receptor binding alters gene expression levels and enables populations of bacteria to carry out diverse processes that require the cooperation of a large number of cells— including evading the host’s immune response and biofilm formation. These diverse processes have widespread and often devastating effects on human health such as causing infections.

This project leverages the properties of potent synthetic inhibitors of bacterial QS developed in laboratories at UW–Madison to disrupt QS in bacteria at or near the surfaces where bacterial colonization occurs, thereby interfering with the phenotypes and behaviors of bacteria that lead to infection and biofilm formation.

Acquisition of State-of-the-Art Solid-State NMR Instrumentation Enabling Characterization of Nanoparticles, Catalysts, Other Novel Materials, and Biochemical Systems

Principal Investigator: Professor Ive Hermans

Collaborators: Professors Katherine Henzler-Wildman, John Berry, Weibo Cai, Kyoung-Shin Choi, Ying Ge, Randall Goldsmith, Sundaram Gunasekaran, Robert Hamers, Song Jin, Clark Landis, Joel Pedersen, Jennifer Schomaker, Shannon Stahl, John Wright

This project funds the acquisition of a state-of-the-art solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument for the Chemistry Department Instrumentation Center. UW-Madison ranks as a premiere institution in the world for research support involving NMR spectroscopy, but nearly all of UW-Madison’s capabilities are directed at liquid samples. NMR studies of solid or semi-solid materials require different technologies and instrumentation than conventional liquids NMR. Solid-state NMR has experienced dramatic advances in recent years, and the new capabilities will be unique in the state of Wisconsin. The project will enable significant areas of materials research to be more competitive.

Advanced materials in the areas of nanoparticle research, catalysis, inorganic and organometallic chemistry, and biochemical systems will greatly benefit from the new instrumentation. As an example, solid-state NMR will enable newly discovered methods to characterize the surfaces of functionalized nanoparticles. The functionalization is critical to nanoparticle properties, and better characterization has been a vital need for enabling more optimal designs applied to a myriad of practical uses of nanoparticles. Catalytic research, vitally important in the world’s chemical productivity, is another area where solid-state NMR will provide new previously unavailable characterization methods.

The new areas of research enabled by this request promise to impact many areas, from medical treatments of cancer and other diseases, to catalysis involving a very broad range of chemical production, for electrochemistry, fuel cells and advanced batteries, medical diagnostics, and more.