13 UC Berkeley faculty members awarded research grants by CZ Biohub

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Thirteen UC Berkeley faculty members have been awarded up to $1.5 million in grants each by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to carry out biomedical research.

CZ Biohub — founded in September 2016 with an investment from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan is a nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to encouraging and funding research related to finding cures for diseases. The 13 campus faculty are part of a group of 47 investigators chosen by CZ Biohub, who come from Stanford University, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley, the organization’s partners.

Six of the faculty members are senior faculty and will receive $1.5 million over the next five years, while the other seven faculty members are younger junior investigators who will receive $750,000 over the same amount of time.

“The cohort of 47 CZ Biohub Investigators is a broad cross section of scientists, engineers and technologists who will have the opportunity to collaborate at the CZ Biohub and pursue risky, bold ideas that they wouldn’t be able to pursue otherwise,” said Joe DeRisi, CZ Biohub co-president, in an email. “We are extremely excited to see what these Investigators are able to discover and invent over the next five years.”

Markita del Carpio Landry, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and one of the investigators, intends to use the grant to develop a tool that would allow researchers to take measurements in the brain to more adequately diagnose antipsychotic drugs for disorders such as depression.

“The motivation for this project is that there are very (few) ways to test and validate antipsychotic drugs,” Landry said. “We proposed a tool that would allow us to take measurements in the brain to measure behavior … so we can diagnose these drugs with much better precision.”

Rikky Muller, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has centered her research on building tools that allow researchers to study and treat neurological disorders. Muller said her work involves identifying impediments in the treatment of diseases and then determining how engineered systems can eliminate those problems.

Aaron Streets, an assistant bioengineering professor, plans to continue designing fluidic microchips, which allow Streets and his team to study single cells and make a variety of measurements on the same cell.

The grant also gives the investigators flexibility in their research process, enabling them to change their focus during the course of their research, which many of the investigators said is crucial to their studies.

“(The flexibility) important for riskier research where throughout the process of carrying it out we might discover something that wasn’t known,” Landry said. “It gives flexibility to keep pursuing something … that might be more insightful than what we’ve predicted.”

The investigators will also have the chance to collaborate and engage in discussions with the group of researchers from the other two universities. Many of the researchers said working with the other institutions would allow for research across disciplines and establish a network between the three schools to foster greater innovation in the Bay Area.

Many of the researchers see CZ Biohub’s investment in scientific research as a step forward, given recent concerns about a potential lack of federal funding.

“In these times of uncertain … federal funding, it’s really promising to know that some of our strong intellectual thinkers in the private sector are willing to invest a lot of their own money to promote science,” Streets said.

Contact Sydney Fix at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.