Drs. Gunduz, Schmidt and Sharma awarded UF Research Opportunity Seed Grants

Congratulations to Drs. Gunduz, Schmidt and Sharma who were all awarded UF Research Opportunity Seed Grants!


The UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund is an annual seed grant program that targets interdisciplinary, faculty-initiated research initiatives with potential for extramural support. The program focuses on new projects and/or new collaborative partnerships. The 2015 Research Opportunity Fund received 44 proposals submitted by the colleges after internal review. Those proposals were then reviewed by faculty panels using the primary/secondary/tertiary reviewer system. Panel funding recommendations were reviewed and approved by the Vice President for Research, and 17 awards were made. Three of those were awarded to BME faculty and their collaborators! Please read below for additional details on each of their proposals.


Dr. Aysegul Gunduz, along with her collaborators Dr. Chris Hass (Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, PHHP) and Dr. Michael Okun (Neurology, COM), were awarded a UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund on their proposal entitled “Uncovering an Electrical Biomarker for Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s Disease”. Freezing of gait (FoG) in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) causes a paroxysmal cessation of normal footsteps while walking, which can lead to injurious or deathly falls and is commonly drug- and deep brain stimulation (DBS)-resistant. This support of Dr. Gunduz’s proposal will allow the group to collect electrophysiological data from PD patients during ambulation using wireless EEG caps and neuroamplifiers (Gunduz lab) in Dr. Hass’ gait lab equipped with 8-camera Vicon motion capture systems (as shown in figure). The uncovered biomarker will be further used to find optimal DBS parameters to resolve FoG episodes. Long-term, the group aims to develop closed-loop DBS for FoG in PD.



schematicDr. Christine Schmidt and her research team, along with her collaborator Dr. Hideko Kasahara (Physiology, COM), were awarded a UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund entitled “Engineering Tissue Mimics to Investigate Congenital Heart Disease.” The overarching goal of this proposal is to engineer cardiac tissue mimics to investigate the role biophysical and biochemical cues play in the progression of congenital heart disease. Congenital cardiac anomalies are the most prevalent birth defects, affecting over 1% of live births; however, the mechanisms underlying cardiac maldevelopments in embryos are largely unknown. Specific mutations of the Nkx2-5 gene in humans can cause a variety of malformations with widely varied cardiac symptoms from mild (near-normal function) to severe (heart failure). This variation in symptoms suggests non-genetic (epigenetic) factors in utero play a key role in aggravating the disease progression and severity. This work will use Dr. Kasahara’s Nkx2-5 knock-in mouse model in conjunction with Dr. Schmidt’s expertise in creation of tuned biomaterials to investigate the effects of biophysical and biochemical cues on severity of disease pathology both in vitro and in vivo.



nanoparticlesDr. Edward Chan (College of Dentistry) and Dr. Blanka Sharma, BME Assistant Professor, have been awarded a UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund for their project titled “Nanoparticle-mediated microRNA therapy for oral cancer”. The goal of the project is to improve the treatment of oral cancer based on new microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers and nanoparticle technology. Oral cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, with a 5-year survival rate of 61%. miRNAs are endogenous small non-coding RNAs that act as post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression in diverse cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation, and development. When miR-21 is upregulated in oral cancer, it contributes to cancer cell proliferation and acts as a biomarker for poor patient survival. Treatment of the tumor with miR-21 inhibitor (anti-miRNA), is a promising approach; however, the delivery of these oligonucleotides to cancer cells has been a challenging task to date. Advances in nanoparticle-based delivery systems, which encapsulate cargos and promote intake by cancer cells, are potential enabling technologies for miRNA therapeutics. This proposal takes advantage of the expertise of Dr. Chan (PI), in identifying overexpressed or underexpressed miRNA in oral cancer, and the strengths of Dr. Sharma (co-I), with expertise in applying nanoparticles for in vitro and in vivo gene delivery. [image: Nanoparticles (green) containing nucleic acids are taken up by cancer cells (cell membrane in red)]