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Clarkson University's He Dong Receives NSF CAREER Award

Clarkson University Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science He Dong has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

He DongA proposal, titled "Self-Assembling Nanofibers as Next Generation Antimicrobial Biomaterials," earned her the special distinction from the NSF.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is an NSF-wide activity that offers the foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization.

The Dong group has been focusing on the construction of biomaterials based on the self-assembly of peptides/proteins and block-copolymers for a wide range of biomedical applications including drug delivery, gene/siRNA delivery, vaccine delivery and antimicrobial therapy development.

In this CAREER Award, the Dong group aims to develop a nanotechnology-based design strategy for safe but highly effective delivery of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) to treat a variety of bacterial infections.

The discovery of AMPs has opened an era of tremendous promise and potential opportunity for overcoming bacterial resistance to commonly used antibiotics. However, despite being a promising alternative to antibiotics, their susceptibility to proteases, limited circulation half-lives and severe host cell toxicity represents critical hurdles to their widespread use.

The Dong group developed a highly effective strategy to overcome these hurdles by assembling AMPs in a nanoparticle form, termed as Self-Assembling Antimicrobial Nanofibers (SAANs). Unlike traditional AMPs that have severe cytotoxicity toward host human cells, when AMPs are organized in a nanoparticle, they become "smart" and have the ability to selectively kill the bacterial cells while leaving the health eukaryotic human cells unaffected. Dong believes the superior antimicrobial activity and cell selectivity is largely attributed to the nanoscale effect which has rarely been studied in the past.

The CAREER Award will allow the Dong group to validate and refine the SAAN platform which represents a fundamental advance in the understanding of how to optimize the physicochemical properties and mode of action of next-generation AMP-based antimicrobial nanomaterials.

The fundamental knowledge developed from the proposed research activities will provide a powerful new glossary of fundamental design principles for the synthesis and deployment of AMPs. It will have a transformative impact on the multi-billion-dollar research focused on conventional antibiotics and AMPs by re-engineering and "re-formatting" thousands of available AMPs in the peptide databank to form SAANs, thereby greatly boosting their therapeutic potential.

The cutting-edge biomaterials research will be integrated into various creative educational activities for students at all levels, including providing summer internship for high school students with hands-on research experiences and teachers as academic reprehensive for high school curriculum enhancement; the creation of continuous laboratory working opportunities for undergraduate students, particularly for students at early undergraduate career and underrepresented groups; and continuous development of new creative teaching methods for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Dong received her bachelor of science degree in chemistry and master of science degree in analytical chemistry from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and her doctoral degree in organic chemistry from Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Before coming to Clarkson in 2012, she was a postdoctoral researcher with the University of California at Berkley, where part of her work involved developing functional hybrid biomolecular materials for therapeutic delivery. Prior to that, she did postdoctoral research with the Department of Surgery at Emory University in Atlanta.

While at Rice University, she received the John L. Margrave Outstanding Graduate Thesis Award from the Department of Chemistry.

Dong currently is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Materials Research Society, the American Physical Society and the Biomedical Engineering Society. She has more than 30 publications, and is an invited reviewer for about 30 scientific journals, including several high-impact journals such as Chemical Society Review, Angewandte Chemie International Edition and American Chemical Society Nano, Macromolecules, and others. She also is an invited grant reviewer for NSF and National Institute of Health.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Kelly Chezum, VP for External Relations, at 315-268-4483 or]

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