Frank Annunzio Award 2004
Frank Annunzio Award Scholar
The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is honored to have awarded
the achievements of the following 2004 $50,000
Frank Annunzio Award Columbus Scholar:
Jennifer West, Ph.D.
Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Rice University, Houston, Texas
Dr. West is conducting research in biomaterials and tissue engineering
focusing on the synthesis, development and application of novel biofunctional materials
and on the use of biomaterials and engineering approaches to study biological problems.
One area of Dr. West's research involves tissue engineering aimed at creating new materials for
small-diameter vascular grafts. To date, synthetic materials have not proved suitable for
heart bypass surgery and other vascular graft procedures, yet tissue transplantation isn't always
a suitable option. Dr. West is developing techniques to use a patient's own cells to grow
replacement blood vessels in the lab--blood vessels that can be surgically implanted without
fear of rejection because they are grown from the patients own cells. To achieve this, she
is synthesizing novel new materials that mimic extracellular matrix. These so-called scaffold
materials provide a structure for the replacement cells to grow upon. Dr. West also uses the
latest techniques in genetics and biotechnology to improve the growth rates of the cells seeded
onto these scaffolds, thus cutting the time it would take to grow a replacement graft. The scaffold
materials under development provide signals to promote cell adhesion, to control synthesis of
matrix proteins, to regulate cell growth, and to allow degradation of the polymer as new tissue forms.
A related area of Dr. West's research involves the use of bioengineering to combat
restenosis, a complication that often arises after angioplasty, the balloon procedure
used to open clogged arteries. She is developing polymer materials that can be coated
on arteries after they are opened with the balloon. The polymers release nitric oxide,
a chemical that helps arteries heal without the clotting and scar tissue formation
associated with thrombosis.
Dr. West is also working on biomedical applications of nanoshells, ultrasmall
metallic spheres that are engineered with special optical properties.
For medical applications, these particles can be designed to strongly
absorb or scatter light in the near infrared where tissue and blood are
relatively transparent. This research is exploring several biomedical
applications for nanoshells, including cancer therapy, drug delivery
and medical testing. In a cancer therapy application, nanoshells are
designed to absorb light and convert the energy to heat for tumor destruction.
By conjugating antibodies or peptides to the nanoshell surfaces, binding
of nanoshells can be targeted to cancerous cells, and subsequent exposure
to near infrared light results in specific and localized destruction
of the cancerous cells. She is also developing nanoshells technologies
that can be used for modulated drug delivery optically-controlled valves
for microfluidics devices, and a rapid, whole-blood immunoassay.
Dr. West received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering
at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is honored to have
had the assistance of the following distinguished individuals serving
on the 2004 Frank Annunzio Awards Evaluation
Anthony Atala, M.D., William Boyce Professor and Director, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Atala was the recipient of the 2000 $100,000 Christopher Columbus Foundation Award.
John A. Kleppe, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Nevada,Reno.
- M. Ian Phillips, Ph.D.,Vice President for Research and Professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida. Dr. Phillips was the recipient of the 2002 $50,000 Frank Annunzio Award in the Science/Technology field.
- Fenella Saunders, Associate Editor, American Scientist.
- Neill S. Smith, Ph.D., Senior Engineer, Vehicle Control Technologies, Reston, Virginia