The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development is proud to present the September 2015 IFI Awardees:

Susan Assouline, Professor, Psychological and Quantitative Foundations
Major Conference Grant
Inaugural Invitational Summit on European/American Academic Talent Development

The Inaugural Invited European-American Summit on the Psychology of Talent Development, scheduled for April 6 and 7, 2016, in Washington, DC, offers a unique opportunity to inform, explore, and debate the many psychological and educational issues surrounding talent development across the life span. Despite wide availability of technology, American psychologists and educators remain largely uninformed about European psychological and educational advances in the realm of talent development. Ubiquitous conversations and discussions concerning American innovation and educational excellence relative to the rest of the world are likely the most obvious reasons why trying to bridge the disconnect between American and European researchers is important. Enhancing our understanding of psychological theories and practices related to talent development, although more subtle, is another important reason for the summit, which will include 24 scholars. Finally, the summit structure deviates from the more traditional large-conference format where presenters have little time to reflect, debate, or consider deeply the implications of these topics. This will expand the fields of education and multiple domains of psychology through an international exchange of interdisciplinary ideas and collaborative research focused on talent development. Each critiqued presentation will be revised and submitted for publication. The summit on talent development is innovative in three ways. First, it brings together European and American educational and psychological researchers focused on the interdisciplinary topic of talent development. Second, the nature of the summit, which includes in-depth critique, is designed to foster the exchange of ideas and collaborative research and to help each of the 24 researchers fine-tune their methodology. Finally, the two main journals in gifted education, Gifted Child Quarterly (American) and High Ability Studies (European) will produce two special issues featuring the 24 papers.

Scott Daly, Associate Professor, Chemistry
Major Project Grant

Synthesis of Molecular Nanocapsules for Cancer Treatment Applications

The broader use of metal-based radiopharmaceuticals in targeted cancer treatment is limited by a lack of molecules (i.e. chelators) that prevent toxic metal release in the body. Metal release from the pharmaceutical prior to excretion from the body can result in life-threatening accumulation of the radioisotope in undesired areas such as the bones. This problem is difficult to address in a general way because every metal has unique chemistry and properties. When a new radiometal is identified with radiation characteristics ideal for cancer treatment or imaging, it must be subjected to extensive screening to find a molecule with sufficiently-high metal binding affinity in bodily serum. As a result, the search for a suitable molecule can take many years to complete, often at significant cost, and there are currently radiometals that have no molecules with binding affinity high enough to be considered for clinical use. The goal of this proposed research is to remove the prerequisite need for high metal binding affinity in radiopharmaceuticals by developing a general metal containment method that works with many metals regardless of their differences in chemical properties. We will achieve this objective by fully encapsulating metals in molecular capsules. Our hypothesis is that trapping the metal in a molecular capsule will lessen the need for high metal binding affinity to prevent metal loss in solution. The major contribution of this proposed research will be novel molecular syntheses that yield fully encapsulated metal complexes that prevent metal loss in solution. This proposed research, if successful, will provide a general method to quickly expand the number of radiopharmaceuticals available for targeted cancer treatment therapies.

Colin Gordon, Professor, History
Major Project Grant
Segregation, Homeownership, and the Black-White Wealth Gap

Racial wealth inequality, much starker than either wage or income inequality, is largely the product of housing discrimination and segregation. This segregation is often abetted, or accompanied, by public policies which widen gaps in housing wealth and housing opportunity. While we know this, in its rough details, to be true, conventional data sources do a poor job of capturing it. We propose to flesh out this story through the use of archival data on home values (collected for selected St. Louis neighborhoods from deed records); archival (manuscript census and probate) data on occupancy, ownership and demographic data; and archival sources on local land regulation (deed restrictions, zoning, etc). The goal is to generate good historical data on housing values and then to match this, by neighborhood and by parcel, to both local public policies and to underlying demographic patterns and transitions. This project rests on an innovative collaboration, combining secondary data analysis with archival research.

​Jiyeon Kang, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Vernacular Civilities: Chinese International Students in the U.S. and South Korea

Vernacular Civilities: Chinese International Students in the U.S. and South Korea examines emerging local (“vernacular”) practices of Chinese international students at the U.S. and South Korean universities with the highest number of Chinese international students. This will be the first phase of ethnographic research to be included in a comparative three-site study of global undergraduate student mobility and the emerging cultures of globalization, tentatively named New Global Civilities: The Mobile Undergraduate in the U.S., China, and South Korea. Undergraduate student mobility among the U.S., China, and South Korea accounts for 40% of the 4.5 million students who study in foreign countries. The recent growth of students seeking undergraduate degrees in foreign countries is driven by the students’ pursuit of global competitiveness, but also by the needs of higher education institutions. The resulting mass arrival of international students is transforming the daily experiences at local campuses for both domestic and international students (something we’ve also observed in Iowa City, where Chinese students account for 74% of the international student population). Perhaps not surprisingly, this transformation is also changing the culture of globalization. The mass arrival of students from one country, growing intra-Asian movement, and competition among global universities for international students suggest that the traditional ideals associated with studying abroad – such as mutual engagement or cosmopolitan exchange – fail to offer ethical principles for the new order of global higher education. With Vernacular Civilities, I will conduct an ethnographic study of the emerging local practices through which international students respond to the changing environment at host universities, and on this basis examine theories of coexistence (e.g., Aristotle’s “friendship,” Derrida’s “hospitality,” and Honig’s “foreign founder”). This analysis constitutes an important step for the larger project of addressing “new civilities” –the emergent or “vernacular” social and ethical norms of coexistence among domestic and international students on university campuses, even as students’ goals, cultures, and openness to one another might diverge.

Robert C. Ketterer, Professor, Classics
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Ancient history and the Ottomans in Italian opera, 1650-1830

My research is interdisciplinary between classical studies and music history. My current project builds upon the work I did on the reception of antiquity in baroque opera in my monograph Ancient Rome in Early Opera (2009). I am working on a monograph about the ways that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian operas used stories from ancient history to explore contemporary relations between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. My method of research is to study the librettos and scores of original performances and important revivals; compare them with ancient sources from which they are adapted; and consult primary sources from the seventeenth and eihteenth centuries to discover how the ancient sources were interpreted and if possible, how the operas were received. I am seeking AHI funds to support travel to collections of librettos and other historical materials not held in the UI libraries. I have been granted Scholar-in-Residence status for the 2015-16 academic year at the Newberry Library in Chicago that holds the Howard Mayer Brown Collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century librettos that have formed the basis for my research career. It also has extensive collections of early modern Italian documents and books related to the study of opera and contemporary Italian society. I then propose a twelve- day research trip to important archives in Venice which house the original librettos, scores, and historical documents fundamental to this study. The immediate outcomes will be: 1) abstracts for two conference presentations at the Society for Seventeenth Century Music (April 2016), the Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music (Canturbury, UK, July 2016); 2) a grant application to the Delmas Foundation for research in Venice; 3) the completion of two articles that will be the bases for book chapters; 4) a book prospectus for submission to Ashgate Press.

​Nandakumar Narayanan, Assistant Professor, Neurology
Major Project Grant

Adaptive brain stimulation for cognitive symptoms of human disease

Brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and dementia impair movement and cognition. In the case of impaired movement, drugs, brain stimulation, or prosthetics can treat motor dysfunction. Despite the fact that impaired cognition causes enormous morbidity and societal costs in neurological illness, there are few reliable therapies for these symptoms. Conventional pharmacological or rehabilitative therapies often fail to treat impaired cognition because they don’t penetrate the brain, are not specific, or have intolerable side effects. Thus, there is a critical need for therapies that treat cognitive symptoms of brain diseases that existing therapies simply cannot meet. Accordingly, in what we view as a paradigm shift, we propose a high-risk, high-reward effort targeted at identifying and rectifying dysfunctional patterns of neural activity that disrupt higher-order thought. We focus on malfunctioning neural activity within the prefrontal cortex, a brain area at the core of cognitive processing. Our long-term goal is to develop adaptive, closed-loop prefrontal stimulation of the prefrontal cortex to treat cognitive symptoms of brain diseases. Our highly original contribution is moving away from current open-loop brain stimulation, ill-equipped to react to emerging behavior, towards a closed-loop technique that is at once reactive and yet poses fundamental technical challenges. This proposal finds synergy in a unique multidisciplinary team led by Dr. Soura Dasgupta, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The other team members are Dr. Nandakumar Narayanan, an Assistant Professor of Neurology with clinical proficiency in brain stimulation and scientific expertise and Dr. Raghuraman Mudumbai, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering who is an expert in multi-signal processing and distributed computing. Between us, we bring needed expertise in time-frequency multi-signal analysis and adaptive techniques. This proposal leverages our collective expertise to develop radically new technology to analyze complex and noisy neural signals in real-time and deliver adaptive brain stimulation. Our approach has the potential to be highly individualized and thus maximally effective for challenging brain diseases that impair cognition. We seek OVPR funding to catalyze a novel collaboration that will generate key preliminary results to secure funding from NIH and NSF.

Randy Nessler, Core Facility Research Manager/Director, Central Microscopy Research Facility
Core Facilities Grant

Acqusition of iridium and carbon deposition sample preparation system

Specimen preparation is critical for the acquisition of meaningful data. Much of the specimen preparation instrumentation located within the Central Microscopy Research Facility (CMRF) is quite aged and prone to breakdown. There have also been improvements in this technology over time. This proposal will consolidate two aged systems into one modern unit.


Jack Stapleton, Professor, Internal Medicine
Major Project Grant
Learning from Viruses: How to Safely Modulate Human Immune Responses

Misdirected or overly active immune responses cause a multitude of diseases. Several immune inhibiting therapies are used to treat immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Unfortunately, these drugs cause severe immune suppression, and side effects of the medications include serious infections (fungal infections and tuberculosis), lymphoma, etc. Another consequence of an over-active human immune response is that it limits the success of gene therapy approaches to treat disease. Specifically, gene therapy for genetic diseases provides the gene product that is missing, for example, Factor VIII for hemophilia A. Since patients with hemophilia do not have Factor VIII at birth, their immune system does not recognize the Factor VIII provided by gene therapy. Thus, this “foreign” product is viewed as an invader, and the immune system of the gene therapy recipient responds to and inactivates the therapeutic Factor VIII. In addition, the vector used to deliver gene therapy can also lead to immune responses that shorten the duration of gene delivery. Many viruses have evolved sophisticated approaches to blunt immune responses, and in some cases they do this without causing severe immune suppression. We recently found that hepatitis C virus blunts a key human immune response in two ways. Specifically, hepatitis C virus blunts the activation of T cells by its effects on the T cell receptor. Although these effects are significant and can be measured in T cells removed from HCV-infected people, they are modest and not associated with severe immune suppression. The two mechanisms we discovered involve 1) the generation of a microRNA that is processed from the HCV genome, and 2) an HCV protein that resides on the surface of the virus particle. Both of these viral products can be produced synthetically. We propose to test HCV microRNA and surface protein for their ability to modulate immune responses in a mouse model. We will also determine if these products reduce the development of Factor VIII inhibitors, with the goal of developing adjunctive approaches for gene therapy. Future studies will test the products for their ability to treat or prevent other immune diseases.

Meng Wu, Manager/Director, High Throughput Screening
Core Facilities Grant

3D cell culture high throughput platform for drug discovery and toxicology

Drug discovery and druggable target identification are major objectives of basic research and translational sciences aiming the cure and relief of the human diseases. Many investigators use in vitro cell-based models as their starting points of drug discovery or toxicology researches. To improve the effectiveness of the physiological relevance with in vivo tests; three-dimensional (3D) cell-based approach is increasingly used in addition to two-dimensional (2D) cell-based ones. Contrast to 2D cell culture, growing the cells in flat layers (monolayers), the 3D cell culture allows biological cells to grow or interact in all three dimensions with their neighboring cells and microenvironment. However, the adaptation of 3D cell culture models in high throughput platforms has been slow due to the limitations of increased variability, low throughput, difficulty to automate and high cost, especially for individual labs. Here in this core grant application, we propose to establish and consequentially provide a service of the 3D cell culture high throughput platform for drug discovery and toxicology. That is, based on the instruments (robotic systems, high content imager and flow cytometry cell sorter) that are already available in Univ. of Iowa, to develop and streamline an automated protocol (the standard operation procedure, SOP) for the 3D cell culture, seeding and sorting onto 96 or 384 well microplates, high throughput and high content imaging of the 3D cell spheroids. Once established, the same SOP, in a highly reproducible and explicitly empirical, will be applied for the optimization of 3D cell culture conditions for different cell lines, primary cells, or even mini-organs from patients or patient-derived xenografts. Several potential research perspectives can be envisioned: 1) Cancer research with 3D cell spheroids of both peripheral and kernel cells for therapeutic and genetic/mutation effects of the location. 2) 3D co-culture of neurons and glia cells for neurodegenerative diseases. 3) More human physiological relevant toxicology researches, i.e. hepatotoxicity or nephrotoxicity. 4) Microbiology studies of bacterial or viral infectiousness on 3D cell spheroids. 5) Potential application of 3D cell spheroids from patient derived xenografts for in vitro evaluation of therapeutic efficacy and side-effect toxicity in a quick and systematic approach.