UF team receives NSF grant to study nerve cell behavior

Xin Tang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UF department of mechanical & aerospace engineering, has received a three-year $440,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create an innovative framework to study the 3D, multifaceted behaviors of nerve cells as they relate to diseases, including cancer. This mechanobiological framework aims to open the door to develop next-generation drugs targeting cancer pain and associated diseases.

Tang Huang
Xin Tang, Ph.D., left, the principal investigator, and Kejun Huang, Ph.D., co-principal investigator

Current methods to study neurons often do not mimic the 3D mechanical environments in the body and cannot measure their molecular, cellular and organismal behaviors at a high enough speed. Tang’s team aims to create a strategy that leverages advanced high-throughput microscopy and machine learning to understand neural behavior at unprecedented speeds, lower costs and in biophysical environments that mimic those found in the real tissues and tumors of the human body. The team plans to share the power of this optical, proteomic and genetic framework with global scientific and industrial societies through publications, open-source algorithms and free resources.

The project also aims to increase the participation of female and historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields by using a wide range of educational activities at the University of Florida, including the Student Science Training Program at the Center for Precollegiate Education and Training and Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience. Students will receive training and hands-on research opportunities to position them for successful careers in multidisciplinary fields.

Caudle McCurdy
Collaborators Robert Caudle, Ph.D., left, and Christopher McCurdy, Ph.D., FAAPS

Tang, an affiliated faculty member in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and a member of the UF Health Cancer Center’s Mechanisms of Oncogenesis research program, is collaborating on the new project with co-principal investigator Kejun Huang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of computer & information science & engineering. Huang’s research interest lies in the broad area of signal processing, machine learning, optimization and statistics. In this project, Huang will create new theory and algorithm designs for discovering neural activities associated with cancer pain.

This project was supported by a pilot award from the UF Health Cancer Center (to Tang and Dietmar Siemann, Ph.D.), the UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund (to Tang, Habibeh Khoshbouei, Ph.D., Pharm.D., Robert Caudle, Ph.D., and Christopher McCurdy, Ph.D., FAAPS), the University Scholars Program (to Tang), and the Gatorade Award (to Tang). The UF Health Cancer Center’s pilot program receives crucial support from the state of Florida through the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Act (Fla. Stat. § 381.915).

 The team acknowledges the support of close collaborators:

  • Jonathan D. Licht, M.D.
  • Dietmar Siemann, Ph.D.
  • Lizi Wu, Ph.D.
  • Jianrong Lu, Ph.D.
  • Frederic J. Kaye, M.D.
  • Guangrong Zheng, Ph.D.
  • Rolf Renne, Ph.D.
  • Weizhou Zhang, Ph.D.
  • Daiqing Liao, Ph.D.
  • Thomas George, M.D., FACP
  • Ji-Hyun Lee, DrPH
  • Warren Dixon, Ph.D.
  • Hitomi Yamaguchi Greenslet, Ph.D.
  • Malisa Sarntinoranont, Ph.D.
  • Blanka Sharma, Ph.D.
  • Carlos M. Rinaldi-Ramos, Ph.D.
  • David Hahn, Ph.D.

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