Four NIBIB grantees win prestigious Presidential early career awards

Science Highlights
July 22, 2019
Raymond A. MacDougall
four researchers individual photos
NIBIB’s PECASE Awardees, from left, Darren J. Lipomi (UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering photo); Ron Alterovitz (UNC-Chapel Hill photo); Xudong Wang (UW-Madison College of Engineering photo); and Angela Pannier (photo by Craig Chandler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln).

Four NIBIB grantees are among more than 300 recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) announced by President Donald J. Trump on July 2, 2019, and to be awarded at a ceremony on July 25.  The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology. Recipients announced this year hail from universities in 38 states across the country.

“The PECASE award is a national honor that puts a spotlight on an exceptionally talented group of NIBIB grantees at a time of unprecedented breakthroughs in advancing human health,” said NIBIB Director Bruce J. Tromberg, Ph.D. “These promising young scientists span the country and a fascinating spectrum of bioengineering research, from biomaterials to biomedical devices. Each awardee represents promising talent whose commitment to their innovative projects will engineer the future of health.”

Darren J. Lipomi, Ph.D., associate professor of nanoengineering, University of California, San Diego, is a 2015 PECASE nominee, just awarded this year. His NIBIB grant is an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (DP2EB022358) supporting scientists who undertake novel approaches to major challenges in biomedical research. Lipomi develops wearable and implantable medical sensors, including stretchable, biodegradable, and self-healing semiconducting polymer materials. Stretchable electronics are designed to seamlessly integrate with the body contours to monitor vital signs, muscle activity, metabolic changes, and organ function. His project aims to create a new class of semiconducting polymer material that has the mechanical properties of human skin. This transparent electronic skin will be soft and elastic, sense contact, absorb blunt force, and will self-heal when damaged—all the while providing continuous and wireless health-monitoring.

Ron Alterovitz, Ph.D., professor of computer science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a 2017 PECASE nominee. His NIBIB grant (R01EB024864) aims to improve the survival rate for lung cancer by enabling earlier stage diagnosis using a novel robotic device. The project is creating a new robotic system that deploys a needle that can semi-automatically steer through lung tissue to safely biopsy nodules. Currently used instruments cannot accurately access many nodules. The innovative robotic system will enable access to nodules throughout the lung, increase targeting accuracy, and avoid major bleeding by steering the needle around larger blood vessels. The project brings together a multidisciplinary team that spans expertise in interventional pulmonology, cardiothoracic surgery, radiology, mechanical engineering, and several subareas of computer science, including artificial intelligence and medical image analysis.

Xudong Wang, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of materials science and engineering, University of Wisconsin – Madison, is a 2016 PECASE nominee. His NIBIB grant (R01EB021336) supports the development of self-powered implantable biomedical devices for continuous, real-time sensing, monitoring, and other vital health functions. A variety of energy sources in the human body, such as limb movement, respiration, and heartbeat can provide sufficient power for small biomedical devices. The project explores innovative nanotechnology to create self-sufficient power supplies for implantable devices used in areas such as wound healing and weight control.

Angela K. Pannier, Ph.D., professor of biological systems engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a 2017 PECASE nominee. Her NIBIB grant (DP2EB025760) is an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. Her lab is developing more than 10 projects related to biomaterials and gene delivery systems. The award will support development of novel methods that improve use of adult stem cells in gene therapy, a promising tool for treating a variety of diseases.

Established in 1996, the PECASE acknowledges the contributions scientists and engineers have made to the advancement of science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education and to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, and community outreach. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies.The PECASE awards ceremony will take place the morning of July 25, 2019, at Daughters of the American Revolution, Constitution Hall.  NIBIB-nominated recipients will be celebrated at an NIBIB seminar on the NIH campus on the same day.

Read the July 2, 2019, White House announcement here.