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Source: Carol Shanklin, 785-532-7927, shanklin@k-state.edu;
and Marcia Molina, 785-532-5720, mmolina@k-state.edu
Video available. http://www.youtube.com/user/KState#p/c/C476237DAF61390B/0/Q7Sbe-AcMIA
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-2535, gtammen@k-state.edu

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DOCTORAL STUDENTS EARN FINANCIAL BACKING FOR LIFE-SAVING, HIGH-PROFILE RESEARCH

MANHATTAN -- Five Kansas State University doctoral candidates have received a prestigious university scholarship for their dissertations that focus on improving human health and enhancing the quality of life.

Each recipient of the Kansas State University Research Foundation doctoral research scholarship was awarded a $15,000 scholarship stipend and up to an additional $5,000 for tuition reimbursement.

The 2011-2012 recipients are Andrew Jones, a doctoral candidate in physics, Lawrence; Steven Copp, a doctoral candidate in anatomy and physiology, Manhattan; Samuel Molina, a doctoral candidate in biochemistry, Mount Pleasant, Mich.; Hongzhou Huang, a doctoral candidate in grain science and industry, China; and Lateef Syed, a doctoral candidate in chemistry, India.

"Our goal is to free up the researchers so they can focus on their work, rather than diverting too much of their attention to other jobs outside the lab," said Marcia Molina, vice president of the Kansas State University Research Foundation, or KSURF. The foundation is a nonprofit corporation responsible for managing technology transfer activities of K-State.

The students were chosen based on academic performance, publications, presentations and the potential for intellectual property or commercial application from their work. The doctoral scholarship encourages graduate students to think about how their research could also apply to industry rather than purely academia, Molina said. In addition, the scholarships are a way to expand and strengthen K-State's graduate research program, a key component in the university's goal of becoming a top 50 public research university by 2025.

Here's a look at each recipient's research:

* Jones is refining and testing a mid-infrared laser he helped build. The laser, the first of its kind, is made from a hollow-core photonic crystal fiber that's about half the width of a human hair. This optical fiber is filled with hydrogen cyanide or acetylene -- both molecular gases -- and then excited with another laser. One molecule of the excited gas spontaneously emits light, and many others follow suit, resulting in a laser. A patent application for the laser has been filed.

"Mid-infrared lasers are pretty hot right now because of all of their applications for molecular fingerprinting -- where you want to perform accurate spectroscopic measurements on low concentrations of molecules," Jones said. "For example, for analysis you could breath into an apparatus and the laser would map out the amount of specific molecules in your breath -- useful for diagnosing illness in your body."

* Copp is looking at the delivery and use of oxygen within the skeletal muscle microvasculature. His work is aimed at determining what is responsible for increases in oxygen delivery and its use in these contracting muscles, and how those processes become distorted in humans with the onset of diabetes, heart failure and aging.

By discovering what regulates these processes in healthy individuals, new therapeutic treatments and pharmaceuticals can be developed to correct them when the dysfunction begins.

"The overall goal is to be able to take someone who's exhausted from doing things in daily life, like walking across a room, and allow that person to take a walk or play nine holes of golf -- just have a dramatically improved quality of life," he said.

* Molina is studying the expression of Connexin 46, a protein in the lens of the eye, and how it's regulated by hypoxia, a low oxygen level in tissue that often kills tissue-forming cells.

"The lens is naturally hypoxic and does not have blood vessels. A lot of solid tumors start as hypoxic tumors, meaning they also don't have blood vessels," Molina said. The intent is to find why Connexin 46 provides both lens and tumor cells resistance to hypoxia, which allows them to live longer during hypoxic conditions. By doing so, the growth of tumors could be stopped.

Currently, Molina has found that in samples of breast and retinal tumors in which the Connexin 46 was depleted, the tumor growth and size were reduced. These findings could reduce tumors in the colon and prostate.

* Huang's work looks at understanding the biological functions and structure of a newly created peptide that forms a reversible, rapid recovery hydrogel. The hydrogel was created at K-State and a patent application has been filed. It has a consistency similar to jelly, but is composed of 99.5 percent water. When shaken, it turns to liquid, creating micro gels with Newtonian flow. After two minutes, however, it reforms into a colloid form.

"This gel has potential for many medical purposes, such as tissue engineering and drug delivery," Huang said. "The body does not reject it, so stem cells can be used in these gels to grow and repair tissues. As a liquid it could be used for vaccine injections."

* Syed is developing multiple nanotechnology-based biosensors that can detect blood contamination, pathogens and cancerous proteases. The device could be used in food and water processing plants as well as hospitals, preventing financial loss and protecting lives. A patent application has been filed for the novel technique used to detect trace levels of blood contamination.

"The big picture is that we want to make it handheld," Syed said. "This way it could immediately analyze a sample on location and determine whether there is contamination."