First revenue-producing license in UTSA history secured
An exclusive license agreement was formed between UTSA, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Merck & Co., Inc. to develop a vaccine against the common sexually transmitted bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
Under the terms of the first revenue-producing license for any technology developed at UTSA, Merck will provide research funding to UTSA and the Health Science Center, whose collaborative team of researchers was the first to demonstrate that, in animals infected with chlamydia, a vaccine composed of a select group of recombinant C. trachomatis antigens can successfully clear the infection, and importantly, preserve female reproductive function.
The trio of UT researchers involved in this collaboration includes two from UTSA. They are Bernard Arulanandam, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Ashlesh Murthy, research assistant professor, both in the Department of Biology.
PREP celebrates the big 3-0
The Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP), founded by math professor Manuel Berriozábal, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009. Raul “Rudy” Reyna, executive director of the program, says the purpose of PREP has always been to provide primarily minority and disadvantaged students with intense exposure to math and science through a series of seven-week summer sessions, now in a four-year sequence.
During the past 30 years, PREP has been replicated across the nation. It has evolved into a statewide outreach initiative, called TexPREP, which has received more than $40 million in financial aid and in-kind support from public and private entities. TexPREP operates in 13 cities on 21 college campuses and has served more than 25,000 students, mostly Hispanics.
In December 2009, Berriozábal was honored by the American Society for Cell Biology with the Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education. This award “recognizes individuals who have made impactful and sustained contributions to science education,” says George Perry, dean of the college.
Hundreds celebrate research in the College of Sciences
Nearly 300 participants gathered at the Main Campus on Aug. 7, 2009 to celebrate scientific research in the South Texas region.
Participants learned about the programs at the university through poster and oral presentations and tours of the laboratories and facilities. More than 100 posters represented research conducted by the college’s six academic departments.
Karl Klose, director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, delivered the keynote address about the effects of the Vibrio cholera, the bacterium that causes cholera.
More than a dozen different educational institutions from across Texas were represented at the conference along with members of the Alamo Chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
Six undergraduate students received awards of a year’s membership to Sigma Xi for their poster presentations.
Large grant to study small stuff
The Department of Physics and Astronomy received a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study nanomaterials and their biomedical applications.
More than 80 percent of the funds from the $2.7 million Partnership for Research and Education in Materials grant will stay with UTSA, which will conduct the research in collaboration with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and with Northwestern University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, one of the top 14 nanomaterials centers in the U.S.
About $900,000 of the grant’s total budget goes toward hiring six graduate and six undergraduate students each year to assist with the nanomaterials research.
The grant, titled “Oxide and Metal Nanoparticles: The Interface between Life Sciences and Physical Sciences,” will focus on six areas of research, including use of lasers and terahertz radiation to discover medical applications of nanomaterials.
$690K keeps plant biology research growing
Jurgen Engelberth, assistant professor of plant biochemistry, and Valerie Sponsel, associate professor of biology, both from the Department of Biology, were collectively awarded $690,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further their research in plant biology.
Engelberth has received $540,000 for the next three years to research the effects of plant chemicals called green leafy volatiles. Plants release these volatiles when they are cut or wounded by harmful agents such as herbivores or pathogens. Neighboring plants sense the volatiles from the damaged plant as odor, which allows those neighboring plants to subtly prepare themselves for future damage.
Sponsel will receive $150,000 over the next year to research the genes responsible for the biosynthesis of plant hormones called gibberellins.
Sponsel’s research will contribute to a better understanding of how scientists can modify a plant’s genetics to manipulate the plant to produce a larger harvest. The interdisciplinary research project will be conducted with Garry Sunter, associate professor of biology, and Jianhua Ruan, assistant professor of computer science, using biochemical, molecular and computational approaches. This award brings Sponsel’s NSF support into its 20th year.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy hosted monthly free public events titled “Friday Nights, Celestial Lights” in 2009. The events celebrated the International Year of Astronomy, which marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei using a telescope to observe the night sky.
At the first event in February, more than 100 students, faculty and local stargazers listened as Eric Schlegel, Vaughan Family Endowed Professor in Physics, spoke about the progress scientists have made with optics.
On clear nights, participants used both Newtonian telescopes, which use a concave mirror and a flat mirror, and Cassegrain telescopes, which use concave and convex mirrors, to view celestial objects. In addition to viewing the night sky, each event featured a science fiction film screening.
$2.4 MM stimulates college research
Of the $9.2 million in stimulus funding received by the university during 2009, $2.4 million went to the College of Sciences for 11 projects. The majority of the funding came from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and funded projects ranged from high performance computing to the recruitment of a stem cell biologist.
“UTSA is in a race with six other schools to reach Tier One research status, so the opportunity to compete for stimulus funding couldn’t come at a better time for us,” says Robert Gracy, UTSA vice president for research.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill, is an economic recovery package adopted to help states stabilize budgets and stimulate economic growth. The bill allocates approximately $21.5 billion through the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies for scientific research and development projects.