Hang Lu and a team of international collaborators have been awarded a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Grant of more than $1.2 million. Research grants provided by HFSP support research in the life sciences with emphasis on novel, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches that involve scientific exchanges across national and disciplinary boundaries.
HSFP received more than 600 pre-proposals for the 2012 round of research grants and accepted only 68 as full proposals. After an external peer review, the organization, based in Strasbourg, France and supported by 13 countries and the European Union, funded a total of 25 projects.
Lu’s project, “Role of Cytoskeletal Kinases in the Mechanosensory Feed-back Regulation of Muscle,” has a duration of three years and is in collaboration with Dr. Olga Mayans from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, Dr. Guy Benian from Emory University, and Dr. Hans Robert Kalbitzer from the University of Regensburg in Germany.
As associate professor and James R. Fair Faculty Fellow in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Lu leads the Lu Fluidics Group, which conducts research at the interface of engineering and biology. By designing BioMEMS (Bio Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) and microfluidic devices, the group addresses questions in neuroscience, cell biology, and biotechnology that are difficult to answer using conventional techniques. Often referred to as labs-on-a-chip, the novel microsystems developed through research in the group facilitates gathering large-scale quantitative data about complex biological systems, including the evolution of cancer and genetic disorders.
For the HFSP project, Lu and her team will work with C. elegans, a free-living, transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length, that is considered a model organism for molecular and developmental biology research.
“Mechanical stimulation is critical to the maintenance of muscle, which undergoes constant remodeling of its architecture,” Lu says. “Giant elastic polypeptides have mechanosensory regions that are also the target of kinase activities, yet despite their importance in human physiology, little is known about how and when kinases act during the contraction/relaxation cycle.
By engineering C. elegans with optical sensors that report the activities occurring in the nematode’s contracting muscles, the researchers hope to gain insight into how muscles work, as well as learn more about how they are developed, organized, and maintained.