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Utah Space Grant ORAU United States nuclear Regulatory Commission
USUSA SPIE Knights templar

Raman Spectroscopy

One promising application of nanoscale engineering is detecting mycobacteria and biomarkers of disease. We have developed highly sensitive optical probes for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Their high sensitivity is due to enhancing light scattering using gold or silver nanoparticles within the probe’s core. The particle surface can then be labeled with antibodies for specific biomarker targeting. Using labeled SERS optical probes, multiple biomarkers can be targeted and identified. Alternatively, label-free techniques which exclude the use of dyes, radioactive tags, or antibodies to identify a sample, can also be used. In these cases, identification is done by recognizing the intrinsic characteristics of the sample. Our lab uses both methods for identifying biological materials.

Laser Excitation

Cindy used dielectrophoresis and SERS nanoprobes to concentrate and detect mycocbacteria. Nate worked on SERS nanoprobes to classify B-cell malignancies which have many clinically discrete biomarkers.

This work was supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a USU Research Catalyst Award (EV), a USUSA Dissertation Enhancement Award (C. Hanson), and an SPIE Scholarship (C. Hanson).

Retinal Pigment Epitheilal Research

We are interested in developing in vitro models of retinal pigment epithelial cells to understand disease, test new treatments and build computer simulations to understand the role of growth factors. Farhad's primary research focus was to implement a range of experimental methods to provide new insights into the cause and progression of different retinal diseases, such as age-related retinal degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. A secondary research focus is developing new materials to mimic Bruch's membrane. Bruch's membrane supports retinal pigment epithelial cell function and forms part of the retinal-blood-barrier. Chase is pursuing her PhD on aspects of this project.

This research is supported by an NIH Research Grant, a BrightFocus Foundation Award, a Career Starter Grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation and a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Award from ORAU.

VEGF expression at corners of micropatterns

VEGF expression at corners of micropatterns (Farjood, 2016)

Muscular Atrophy

Muscular atrophy due to disuse is a serious issue for immobilized patients on Earth and in human spaceflight, where microgravity prevents normal muscle loading. Defined as the loss of muscle tissue, muscular atrophy involves a wide variety of factors including apoptosis-inducing factor, reactive oxygen species, and N-linked glycans. The specific factors involved depend on the atrophy type, such as denervation, disuse, or muscular disease. Reducing microgravity-induced atrophy would have far-reaching benefits not limited to astronauts and space flight. Those suffering from immobilization due to aging, bone fractures, and comas would benefit from maintaining muscle mass in the absence of normal stimulation. While the cellular mechanisms behind muscular dystrophy and denervation injuries differ from those involved in disuse atrophy, a comprehensive treatment that inhibits myocyte apoptosis and promotes new growth could still alleviate some symptoms. Further uses extend past the clinical realm and into muscular enhancement for athletes and soldiers.

The goal of Charles' research was to determine which atrophy-inducing factors are released due to microgravity, how to inhibit such factors, and how to promote new muscle growth without mechanical stimuli. The hypothesis of his work is that comprehensive prevention of microgravity-induced atrophy will be needed to inhibit myocyte apoptosis as well as promote new growth via supplementation of factors typically released during mechanical stimulation.

This work is supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a Utah NASA Space Grant Consortium fellowship (C. Harding).

The goal of Lori’s research was to build a cell culture model for simultaneous microgravity simulation and ionizing radiation exposure in muscle cells to mimic long-duration spaceflights, like a trip to Mars. Increased radiation exposure during space travel can cause serious damage to DNA and may increase the risk of muscular atrophy. The hypothesis of her work is that simulating both microgravity and radiation exposure together will cause more cellular damage than either condition alone and provide a better model for spaceflight muscle research.

The overall objective of Matt's research was to develop a three-dimensional model in vitro model of skeletal muscle tissue that more accurately represents native tissue. Standard tissue flasks are limited to a flat surface and growth matrices are unable to produce unidirectional growth of myotubes. Both of these models are also dependent on a bottom surface for support. In contrast, using multiplexed silkworm or transgenic spider silk fibers as a growth substrate on a laser-etched acrylic disc, myotube growth is unidirectional and fully suspended, similar to skeletal muscle in vivo. This culture model can also be applied to multiple cell types.

Research Centers

Thermohydraulics and Material Properties (TMP) Research Center