National award honors two UT scientists

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Ali Khademhosseini and Sara Sawyer have received the 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

[Updated at 10:29 a.m., Sara Sawyer quote]

Clarification: Ali Khademhosseini is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University visiting UT for the fall 2011 semester.

Two UT scientists earned 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers for work in their independent research careers.

Ali Khademhosseini, Harrington Faculty Fellow in the biomedical engineering department, and assistant biology professor Sara Sawyer won the award, which was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The awards are coordinated by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Khademhosseini received the award because his contributions to micro-engineering, such as the generation of controlled micro-scale environments and regulation of cell behavior and fabrication of tissue-like structures, according to a release.

“Our research is based on generating biological tissues that can be transplanted into patients to treat various diseases,” Khademhosseini said. “The ability to generate tissues outside the body can be used to alleviate the challenge in a lack of organ donors. We combine cells and materials to develop tissues that mimic the function of the natural organs.”

Sawyer received the award in the department of Health and Human Services because of her research on the evolution of DNA repair genes. The research is providing insight on both the formation of cancers and susceptibility to viral infection, according to a release.

Using approaches based on evolutionary theory, we have done things such as creating a novel anti-HIV gene that is now under therapeutic development at Stanford,” Sawyer said, “and discovering new human genes that are now
being investigated for their association with HIV susceptibility in 
human trial groups.”

Sixteen federal departments and agencies nominated scientists and engineers whose early work showed promise and contribution to the departments and agencies’ missions. The candidates were then forwarded to the White House for final selections.

Khademhosseini was nominated by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which he is working with to produce micro-fabricated tissues that act as muscle-like actuators in robotic components.

An official at the National Institute of Health nominated Sawyer for the award.

“A couple years ago [the official] was attending a study session where one of my grant applications was being discussed by a panel of research scientists, and she became intrigued by the work that I am doing,” Sawyer said. “She funded my grant and has kept in touch with me since that point.”

Later this month, Khademhosseini and Sawyer will be among the scientists and engineers who will personally receive their awards from President Barack Obama.

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Independent research work earns Early Career Awards for scientists