Public Release:  OU researchers receive OCAST awards for health research projects

University of Oklahoma

Four University of Oklahoma Norman campus researchers were awarded OCAST grants for health research projects on subjects that range from the development of bone grafts using adult stem cells to the identification of genes to block parasite development in mosquitoes to new drug development pipelines to improvements in limb movement.

OCAST made the following $135,000 awards for a three-year period to these OU researchers in bioengineering, biology and chemistry and biochemistry:

Vassilios Sikavitsas, Chemical, Biological and Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering Center, to study the creation of bone grafts that exhibit enhanced osteoinductive properties providing a superior alternative to the current therapies in patients with large bone defects. Interest in tissue engineering, biodegradable scaffolds and the use of 3D culturing systems has grown to address the deficits of current clinical practice.

Jun Li, Chemistry and Biochemistry, whose research aims to aid the control of mosquito-transmitted diseases including West Nile virus in Oklahoma. Mosquito innate immunity can be used to control mosquito transmitted pathogens. The purpose of this project is to identify genes that can be used to block Plasmodium parasite development in mosquitoes.

Susan Schroeder, Chemistry and Biochemistry, to study viral RNA structure, which is a goldmine of undiscovered drug targets. Extremely few drugs exist to treat or cure human viral diseases. The current challenge is to use the abundance of new sequence information to predict function and drug targets and, thus, translate sequence into new drug development pipelines.

Ari Berkowitz, Biology, whose project will investigate a type of spinal cord nerve cell or neuron discovered in the OU laboratory that is activated quickly and strongly when the foot is tapped to produce flexion reflex, but inhibited during locomotion. This research will help explain how the spinal cord produces flexion reflex and how it is modulated during other behaviors.

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