The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has awarded some $822,000 in grants to 11 bioscience researchers in hopes of helping them commercialize their discoveries in the future.

Research projects range from treating cancer to the use of nanotechnology in medicine.

The Biotechnology Research Grants were divided among scientists at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Carolinas Medical Center, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Wake Forest University, North Carolina Central University, East Carolina University in and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

The program was launched last year and includes grants up to $75,000. The Biotech Center intends for the funds to help researchers not only advance their work but also attract additional funding from other sources.

“We’re delighted that the Biotechnology Center can provide critical support for these proof-of-concept studies,” said Ken Tindall, the Biotechnology Center’s senior vice president of science and business development, in a statement. “The funding expands the number of researchers who can be competitive in attracting federal research funding to North Carolina.”

The program is not open to researchers at Duke, N.C. State or UNC at Chapel Hill unless they work at a satellite campus in order to foster work elsewhere in the state. Grant recipients are required to receive at least 10 percent of the grant amount in matching funds from other sources. Evaluation criteria include originality, scientific merit and potential commercial significance.

“There is so much research occurring around the state, as demonstrated by the large number of proposals we received from every region,” said Maria Rapoza, the Biotechnology Center’s vice president of science and technology. “There is high-caliber life science research in universities across North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast and everywhere in-between.”

Grant recipients, with summaries provided by the Biotech Center:

North Carolina Central University:

• Dr. Somnath Mukhoopadhyay, $75,000 – To study a new technology that may shed light on a cellular receptor site that could provide a new “target” for developers of disease-fighting drugs.

• Dr. Jiahua (Jay) Xie, $75,000 – To develop transgenic plants with enhanced abilities to accumulate the element selenium, for possible use in cancer treatment as well as environmental clean-up.

University of North Carolina-Asheville:

• Dr. Gerard Voos, $75,000 – In partnership with Dr. Jeff Schmitt of the new Bent Creek Institute, to use state-of-the-art analytical and cancer-screening techniques to study pale Indian plantain, flowering splurge and bethroot. All three have been used in traditional cultures as herbal remedies to combat cancer.

• Dr. Thomas Meigs, $$74,850 – To kick-start efforts to find a novel approach for identifying a specific cascade of cellular events linked to the development of cancerous tumors. Meigs will conduct experiments designed to dissect the molecular machinery inside cells used by a protein called G{alpha}12. He suspects that this protein and its mode of action may be linked to the invasive spread of cancer cells throughout the body.

Carolinas Medical Center – Charlotte:

• Dr. Qi Lu, $75,000 – To develop polymers for use as gene-delivery vehicles that can carry replacements for mutated genes, for treating muscular dystrophy.

University of North Carolina-Charlotte:

• Dr. Andriy Baumketner, $75,000 – To use theoretical modeling to study the self-assembly process of the promising nano-materials called self-assembled peptides. These materials have wide-ranging applications in engineering, material science and medicine. The research targets better manufacturing methods for peptide-based biomaterials.
Wake Forest University:

• Dr. Christa Colyer, $75,000 – To study ways to wield fluorescent probe molecules and capillary electrophoresis with laser-induced fluorescence detection tools in human and environmental health and homeland security.

East Carolina University:

• Dr. Rachel Roper, $72,497 – To test a new strategy for improving the safety and effectiveness of poxvirus vaccines for prevention of infectious diseases and treatment of cancers by removing a specific gene that affects immunity.

• Dr. Yan-Hua Chen, $75,000 – To study cell cultures from a mouse model of acute renal failure to find possible biomarkers that can be used for early detection of the disease and for screening of drugs developed for its treatment.

University of North Carolina-Wilmington:

• Dr. Thomas Shafer, $74,437 – To inhibit certain genes for specific proteins in “soft-shell” blue crabs to learn whether these proteins regulate shell hardening by affecting the timing, type and pattern of microscopic mineral production. The data from the crabs may be transferred to produce novel materials that mimic nature’s non-scale processes.