In 2012, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded $20 million for a new pre-commercialization center at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) designed to bring new technologies and therapies to market sooner to prevent, treat and cure cancer.
The center will be operated by the Houston-Area Translational Research Consortium (HATRC) in collaboration with the new Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In the latest development in the initiative, the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice, with the support of recruitment grants from CPRIT, has hired three new faculty members dedicated to cancer research.
Caleb Bashor, assistant professor of bioengineering (BIOE), earned his B.A. in biochemistry from Reed College in Portland, Ore., in 1999, and his Ph.D. in biophysics from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of California at San Francisco in 2010. Since 2011 he has been a postdoctoral research fellow with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Institute for Medical and Engineering Science at MIT.
Bashor’s research in the field of synthetic biology has focused on the engineering of circulatory regulatory circuits and further understanding of how biological behavior arises from regulatory network structure. In the area of biochemistry, Bashor looks at how the biophysical properties of regulatory proteins relate to their function.
Benjamin Fregly, professor of mechanical engineering, comes from his position as the Knox T. Millsaps Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. Fregly earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford in 1986 and joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1999. There he founded the Computational Neuromechanics Lab, where his research has focused on musculoskeletal biomechanics, multibody dynamics, design optimization and contact mechanics.
“My research program has always had a heavy orthopedic, human movement prediction and computational treatment design focus, and developing my CPRIT research plan in collaboration with surgeon Valerae Lewis at MD Anderson helped me realize how relevant my research toolbox is to orthopedic oncology,” Fregly said. Lewis is chair of the Department of Orthopedic Oncology at MD Anderson.
Isaac Hilton, assistant professor of BIOE, will join the Rice faculty in January 2018. Hilton earned his Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Since then he has worked as a postdoctoral associate in genome and epigenome engineering at Duke University.
As a member of the Duke lab of biomedical engineer Charles Gersbach, he was first author of a 2015 Nature Biotechnology paper that introduced a method based on the increasingly popular genome editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9. Hilton’s innovation enables editing of epigenetics, the non-DNA-sequence regulatory mechanisms in a cell that aid in controlling gene expression.
CPRIT was approved by Texas taxpayers in a 2007 ballot initiative to provide $3 billion to support cancer research statewide. To date, the agency has awarded $1.8 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions and organizations through its academic research, prevention and product development research programs.