FY23 Early Stage Investigator Awardees

March 6, 2023 • REAP News

Rachel Menegaz 030b

Rachel Menegaz, PhD
Recipient of the Early Stage Investigator Pilot Grant Program

“A combination therapy to recover craniofacial phenotype in a mouse model of osteogenesis imperfecta”

Bio: Rachel A. Menegaz, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Anatomy at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. She completed her B.A. in bioanthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, her Ph.D. in integrative anatomy at the University of Missouri, and her postdoctoral training in evolutionary biology at Brown University. Dr. Menegaz’s research investigates the plasticity, function, and growth and aging of the musculoskeletal system in both healthy and pathological states.

Current Project: Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI, brittle bone disease) is a rare bone disease in which patients experience increased skeletal fracture risk, underdeveloped facial skeletons, and dental malocclusions. These craniofacial abnormalities can cause feeding difficulties and contribute to a lower quality of life for patients and especially children with OI. This project investigates a combination of long-acting anti-resorptive agents (bisphosphonates) and biomechanical loading-based therapies in a mouse model of OI, with the goal of improving bone quality and craniofacial growth outcomes while reducing incidences of facial fractures and dental malocclusions.

 Yan Zhang 043

Yan Zhang, PhD
Recipient of the Early Stage Investigator Pilot Grant Program

“The role of the gut microbiome in Lyme arthritis”

Bio: Dr. Ma is a Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences. The major goal of this project is to investigate the contributions of I-mfa to inflammatory responses in kidney disease and the underlying mechanisms.

Current Project: Dr. Zhang is a Research Assistant Professor in Microbiology, Immunology & Genetics Department. She received her Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a second Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering from The University of Tennessee. She completed postdoctoral training at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, where she utilized Next Generation Sequencing to investigate tick microbiome and disease-associated human microbiome including tick-borne disease, Phenylketonuria, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation after severe injury, etc. Dr. Zhang has published over 25 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Kim, Jayoung

Jayoung Kim, PhD
Recipient of Early Stage Investigator Pilot Grant Program

“Engineering Artificial Red Blood Cell as Nanoparticle Carrier for Targeted Gene Delivery”

Bio: Dr. Jayoung Kim is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy. He received his postdoctoral fellow training at the Harvard University after graduating with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 2018. His research focuses on developing advanced carriers for gene therapy towards precision targeting of diseased tissues.

Current Project: One of the primary goals of drug delivery is achieving targeting of diseased organs/tissues. This precision is even more critical in the case of gene therapy, because off-target gene expression reduces on-target therapeutic efficacy and increases the chance of significant toxicity from prolonged unwanted gene expression. While nanoparticle systems have been widely investigated to achieve targeted gene delivery, their modifications have fallen short of clinical success. The focus of this project is to go beyond optimizing the nanoparticles themselves, but to create a separate delivery carrier for the nanoparticles to the target destination (organ) in the body upon administration. These delivery carriers will be synthetic polymeric microparticles that allow unloading of adsorbed nanoparticles at specific organs based on 1) the dynamic blood flow in the vasculature, 2) the physiological vasculature movement, and 3) the mechanical properties of the microparticles. Thus, we propose a new strategy to achieve specific organ targeting of nanoparticles, by allowing them to “grab a cab ride” on bigger, sacrificial microparticles! The project will entail the design and fabrication of the carrier system, thoroughly characterizing it, and validating the targeted delivery in vivo.