Jennifer West, Ph.D., 2004 Annunzio Award

Written by on July 10, 2004 in 2004, Researcher, The Annunzio STEM Leadership Award

Jennifer West

Jennifer West, Ph.D.

Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Rice University, Houston, Texas

Dr. West is conducting research in biomaterials and tissue engineering focusing on the synthesis, development and application of novel biofunctional materials and on the use of biomaterials and engineering approaches to study biological problems. One area of Dr. West’s research involves tissue engineering aimed at creating new materials for small-diameter vascular grafts. To date, synthetic materials have not proved suitable for heart bypass surgery and other vascular graft procedures, yet tissue transplantation isn’t always a suitable option. Dr. West is developing techniques to use a patient’s own cells to grow replacement blood vessels in the lab–blood vessels that can be surgically implanted without fear of rejection because they are grown from the patients own cells. To achieve this, she is synthesizing novel new materials that mimic extracellular matrix. These so-called scaffold materials provide a structure for the replacement cells to grow upon. Dr. West also uses the latest techniques in genetics and biotechnology to improve the growth rates of the cells seeded onto these scaffolds, thus cutting the time it would take to grow a replacement graft. The scaffold materials under development provide signals to promote cell adhesion, to control synthesis of matrix proteins, to regulate cell growth, and to allow degradation of the polymer as new tissue forms.

A related area of Dr. West’s research involves the use of bioengineering to combat restenosis, a complication that often arises after angioplasty, the balloon procedure used to open clogged arteries. She is developing polymer materials that can be coated on arteries after they are opened with the balloon. The polymers release nitric oxide, a chemical that helps arteries heal without the clotting and scar tissue formation associated with thrombosis.

Dr. West is also working on biomedical applications of nanoshells, ultrasmall metallic spheres that are engineered with special optical properties. For medical applications, these particles can be designed to strongly absorb or scatter light in the near infrared where tissue and blood are relatively transparent. This research is exploring several biomedical applications for nanoshells, including cancer therapy, drug delivery and medical testing. In a cancer therapy application, nanoshells are designed to absorb light and convert the energy to heat for tumor destruction. By conjugating antibodies or peptides to the nanoshell surfaces, binding of nanoshells can be targeted to cancerous cells, and subsequent exposure to near infrared light results in specific and localized destruction of the cancerous cells. She is also developing nanoshells technologies that can be used for modulated drug delivery optically-controlled valves for microfluidics devices, and a rapid, whole-blood immunoassay.

Dr. West received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is honored to have had the assistance of the following distinguished individuals serving on the 2004 Frank Annunzio Awards Evaluation Committee:

Anthony Atala, M.D., William Boyce Professor and Director, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Atala was the recipient of the 2000 $100,000 Christopher Columbus Foundation Award.
John A. Kleppe, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Nevada,Reno.
M. Ian Phillips, Ph.D.,Vice President for Research and Professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida. Dr. Phillips was the recipient of the 2002 $50,000 Frank Annunzio Award in the Science/Technology field.
Fenella Saunders, Associate Editor, American Scientist.
Neill S. Smith, Ph.D., Senior Engineer, Vehicle Control Technologies, Reston, Virginia


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