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Roberts and Vierling Receive $150,000 Grant from UMass President’s Office

Susan Roberts

Professor Susan Roberts of the Chemical Engineering Department and Professor Elizabeth Vierling of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology have received a $150,000 grant from the University of Massachusetts President’s Science and Technology (S&T) Fund to support their collaborative project, entitled “Massachusetts BioFoundry; Center for Discovery & Synthesis of Bioactive and Industrial Molecules.” The S&T Fund is intended to support campus and multi-campus initiatives that strengthen the university’s research and development base, deepen our ties with Massachusetts industry and research institutions, leverage external resources, and contribute to economic growth in the Commonwealth. Roberts is also the associate dean of the Graduate School and director of the Institute for Cellular Engineering (ICE). Read related press release published in Business West.

The newly funded project will generate a number of profound results:

  • procuring a unique collection of cultured plant species and associated equipment valued at $1 million to be donated by Monsanto by Aug. 31, 2014;
  • developing novel experimental approaches to identify targets of interest to industrial and academic partners in range of industry sectors;
  • completing cryopreservation of the live cultures to enable a long-term, inexpensive stable source of plant material;
  • establishing an appropriate business model (e.g., identifying revenue streams; laying groundwork for potential industry consortium, and identifying and competing for large-scale federal research funding to support and grow the BioFoundry);
  • establishing R&D partnerships, as appropriate, with other UMass campuses, partner universities, and industry partners;
  • establishing the Biofoundry as a high-quality, long-term science and technology initiative for the university and the Commonwealth with a path toward self-sustainability.

“The S&T program has generated significant benefits,” said University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret in announcing this year’s grants. “With $9.1 million invested since 2004, over 70 grantees have helped leverage over $238 million in external funds for UMass. Additionally, their work has helped launch several important new initiatives, helped campuses secure an impressive array of new industry and institutional partners, and further strengthened our role in supporting the economic development of the state.”

President Claret added that “This year’s proposals continue that path, with several areas of research aligning with state and federal priorities, and I fully expect that the new grantees will add to the achievements attained by preceding efforts.”

Roberts joined the College of Engineering in 1998. In her role as ICE director, Roberts coordinates a National Science Foundation-sponsored Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which provides funding and training to graduate students to prepare them for a range of careers in the emerging field of cellular engineering.

Among her many honors and accomplishments is an NSF CAREER Award, selection as a participant for the first National Academy of Engineering Frontiers in Engineering Education Workshop, and the College of Engineering Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. One of her major research interests is the plant cell culture synthesis of paclitaxel, the active ingredient in the anti-cancer drug Taxol. (July 2014)

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