Greater Milwaukee Foundation awards $400,000 for UW researchers

Grants aimed at furthering innovative cancer and biology research

Ionel Popa, assistant professor of physics at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is seeking to develop new diagnostic tools and therapeutics for cancer, muscular dystrophy and inflammatory bowel disease.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:05 pm

Two researchers in the University of Wisconsin system will receive $200,000 in seed funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to support their research related to cancer and biological sciences.

Ionel Popa, assistant professor of physics at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is seeking to develop new diagnostic tools and therapeutics for cancer, muscular dystrophy and inflammatory bowel disease.

Ionel Popa, assistant professor of physics at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Ophelia Venturelli, assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are recipients of the GMF’s 2017 Shaw Scientist Award, a program that supports early career researchers seeking solutions in biochemistry, biological sciences and cancer research.

The program is aimed at allowing researchers to pursue opportunities that may be promising but are considered too unconventional for traditional funding, according to the GMF.

Each researcher will receive a $200,000 grant to further their projects.

“Selections are made by a distinguished panel of scientists, so the research is held to a very high standard,” said Greater Milwaukee Foundation president and CEO Ellen Gilligan. “And the funding is discretionary, so recipients can choose how to use it for greatest impact in their field,”

Popa is investigating the process by which proteins in the body fold and function under force and how the processes are used by cells to adapt to their local environment. The research may help Popa develop new diagnostic tools and therapeutics for cancer, muscular dystrophy and inflammatory bowel disease. He intends to apply his findings to developing new drugs for cancer patients.

Ophelia Venturelli, assistant professor of biochemistry at University of Wisconsin-Madison, is researching communication among microbes living in the human gut.

“The Shaw award will play a critical role in providing the steady source of funding needed to establish my research on protein nano-mechanics,” Popa said. “It will also be an important step toward a new biophysics program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which will focus on the mechanobiology of proteins.” 

Venturelli is researching communication among microbes living in the human gut. The research may lead to the ability to engineer behaviors among beneficial microbes in the gut ecosystem, which could be used to enhance their resilience to invasion by pathogens or unintended impairment from antibiotics.

“Today’s funding climate for scientific research is highly competitive, and the likelihood of funding depends on preliminary results,” Venturelli said. “The Shaw Scientist Award will allow us to explore new research directions, including high-risk experiments, that will be used to attract external funding and for publications.”

 

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.

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