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UTA researcher earns grant to build conductive bioelastomers for safer tissue engineering

NSF CAREER award

University of Texas at Arlington

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IMAGE: This is Yi Hong, UTA assistant professor of bioengineering. view more

Credit: UT Arlington

A researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington is developing a polymer that will allow engineers to develop a scaffold that is flexible, conductive and biodegradable for biomedical applications such as tissue repair.

Yi Hong, an assistant professor of bioengineering, has won a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program grant to create conductive, single-component and biodegradable elastomers. Hong's technology is an advancement over conventional conductive polymers that are very stiff, hard to be processed and non-degradable.

The research holds great promise in biomedical fields such as tissue repair and drug delivery, but it also has potential to expand to biodegradable electronics and stretchable, wearable electronics.

"There is a gap between conductive polymers and biomedical technology, and many researchers have shown that conductivity can help in tissue remodeling," Hong said. "My research will bridge the gap to design a new more conductive, biodegradable material made from a single polymer chain."

Hong's CAREER Award reflects his innovative nature, but also represents the university's increasing commitment to research with multiple applications, said Duane Dimos, UTA vice president for research.

"Dr. Hong's CAREER Award is well-deserved, and another example of the high-quality, early-career faculty we have at UTA," Dimos said. "His research is transformative and could lead to breakthroughs in his own field, but also in other engineering fields. That type of innovative thinking is how UTA researchers make significant impacts on the world around us."

Hong's work also is aligned with UTA's emphasis on advancing health and the human condition under the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact. He is one of two UTA CAREER Award winners announced so far in 2016. Alice Sun, an assistant electrical engineering professor, also has received a five-year, $500,000 NSF CAREER Award for a project titled, "Optofluidic Lasers at the Liquid/Liquid Interface: A Versatile Biosensing Platform."

Five other UTA faculty members have active NSF CAREER Award support:

  • Majie Fan of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department received $485,627 in 2015 to enhance understanding of how the Rocky Mountains and how their modern, elevated landscape came to be.

  • W. Ashley Griffith, also of Earth and Environmental Sciences, received $400,000 in 2014 to study rock structures' reaction to earthquakes, meteor impacts and explosions.

  • Hyejin Moon of the Mechanical and Aerospace Department received $400,000 in 2013 to support her work with microfluidic devices, which promise to improve 3D tissue and cell sample analyses.

  • Baohong Yuan in the Bioengineering Department received $407,163 in 2013 to more accurately create images for deep tissue, which could lead to earlier cancer detection.

  • Fuqiang Liu in the Materials Science and Engineering Department received $400,000 in 2013 to improve methods for capturing, storing and transmitting solar energy.

The College of Engineering has increased support over the past year to help young faculty members win NSF CAREER Awards. Several assistant professors visited with program directors in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to successfully pursue research funding. The College also hosted a workshop to review successful NSF CAREER proposals and to teach faculty members how to increase their own chances of winning NSF support.

Including his CAREER Award, Hong has been the primary investigator on research grants totaling more than $850,000 since beginning his career, including an American Heart Association grant to develop a bioactive heart patch that will help restore heart function after a heart attack. He also has been involved with other projects as a co-principal investigator in that time. His research interests include biomaterials, tissue engineering, medical devices and drug delivery.

Hong holds eight patents and has authored or co-authored more than 50 journal articles. He is a member of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, the American Heart Association, the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Society for Biomaterials.

Hong earned his doctoral degree at Zhejiang University in 2005 and was a post-doctoral associate and research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he received PITT Innovator Awards in 2009 and 2010. He joined the UTA Department of Bioengineering in 2012.

The growing department has offered joint graduate degrees with UT Southwestern Medical Center for more than 40 years. The department features leaders in the field such as National Academy of Inventors Fellow Khosrow Behbehani, and Charles Chuong, Hanli Liu, Liping Tang and Kytai Nguyen - who are each Fellows of professional organizations in their field. Combined, the five professors have been responsible for 13 patents and more than $45 million in research funding as primary investigators.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program is the NSF's most prestigious award for junior faculty. Winners are outstanding researchers, but also are expected to be outstanding teachers through research, educational excellence and the integration of education and research at their home institutions.

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About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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