Joanna Slusky, a KU assistant professor of computational biology and molecular biosciences who won a Moore Inventor Fellowship for her work designing a protein that could help stem antibiotic resistance, was named today as the recipient of a $2.3 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Slusky’s work in protein design, the subject of a cover story in the current issue of Kansas Alumni, led to her involvement in the University’s successful 2016 bid to land an $11 million, five-year NIH grant that established the KU Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE): Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease. Asked to contribute research on antibiotic resistance, Slusky turned to a protein she’d invented—dubbed S1245—and stored in a freezer in her lab. After initial tests proved encouraging, she expanded the research to focus on E. coli bacteria with funding from the $825,000 Moore Fellowship.
The New Innovator Award, part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects. Slusky says the grant will allow her to expand her focus from E. coli to other bacterial infections which have similar methods of antibiotic resistance.
“The Moore project is really focused on, ‘Let’s make something,’” Slusky says. “The way that this New Innovator Award is structured, it gives me the ability to really explore the science that’s causing this to happen, so that we can use it potentially for other things as well. The science behind this kind of protein-protein interaction should be useful for other inventions that would be against antibiotic resistance, specifically other inventions that might be useful for other types of bacteria, for other types of antibiotic resistance that we could expand into.”
The increasing resistance of harmful bacteria to antibiotic drugs is a growing problem worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2 million people in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die from these infections. Worldwide, the death toll from drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis is 700,000. A 2014 British study projected that by 2050 10 million people will die each year because of increasing resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, surpassing the death rate from cancer.
The scientists behind that study also compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and Slusky has theorized that six of the 10 should be susceptible to a protein like S1245. “So far, with the Moore work, we’ve only been playing with one of the six,” Slusky says. “Now we can say, let’s try to generalize this so that we could see if we can impact six of ten.”
Can a professor’s invention turn the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Read “The Protein in the Freezer,” a feature story on Joanna Slusky’s research from Kansas Alumni magazine, issue no. 5, 2017.
Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our biweekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes.If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at email@example.com.
Audiences all over the world saw the Kansas City skyline last year in “American Honey.” The film, which received six nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards — including Best Feature and Female Lead — stars actor Shia LaBeouf. Kansas City Film Commissioner Stephane Scupham, a 1999 graduate and University alumna, worked with the crew of “American Honey” for the duration of its stay in Kansas City. Read full article.
A documentary came out last year celebrating the life of that coach. “Fast Break: The Legend of John McLendon” was directed by University of Kansas film Professor Kevin Willmott who says McLendon is an American hero. In 1936, McLendon was the first black man to graduate from KU with a Physical Education degree. Read more and listen to podcast.
Plenty of people go back to school at a nontraditional age. But most of them don’t take classes for a doctorate at a school in which they are also a professor. Or while they are practicing law full-time. Or at the age of 72. But that’s exactly what Bruce Hopkins did when he decided to get an SJD at the University of Kansas School of Law, where he also serves as a professor from practice. Read full article.
The Center for Undergraduate Research highlights alumni accomplishments on their website. Rebecca Linwood, c’05, is featured this month. Linwood earned a degree in cell biology and is a senior scientist at Merck Animal Health. Read full article.
Nathan Muyskens, former Co-Chair of the White Collar Criminal Defense and Investigations Practice at Loeb & Loeb, joined the Washington, D.C. office of Greenberg Traurig. Muyskens earned a degree from the KU School of Law in 1995. Read full article.
Kayla Smalley sat down with Catina Taylor, co-founder of the V Form Alliance and founder of Dreams KC, to hear about her entrepreneurial journey in building a new tiny school in Kansas City. Taylor is a 1999 graduate of the KU School of Law. Read full article.
The New Orleans Pelicans have signed current D-League player and former Kansas star Wayne Selden Jr. The 6-5, 230-pound guard has averaged of 18.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists this season with the Iowa Energy. Read full article.
William “Bill” Hougland, former Kansas men’s basketball player and the first player in Olympic basketball history to win two gold medals, died March 6 in Lawrence. He was 86. Hougland, b’52, was a former member of the KU Alumni Association’s national board of directors. Read full article.
KU’s new School of Business building opened its doors last May—and it’s already received several awards and national recognition. David Broz, a’97, an architect for Gensler says while conceptualizing the building back in 2009, the country was in a recession—and staff wanted to bring nobility back to business. Read full article.
Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.
A deadly earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday, and according to Nepal’s National Emergency Operations Center, the death toll has topped 1,400. In issue No. 5, 2014, of Kansas Alumni magazine, associate editor Chris Lazzarino wrote about research by Mike Taylor, associate professor of geology, and his colleagues that identified a previously unknown and active fault line in the Himalayas. Professor Taylor provided an update this morning.
The epicenter of today’s 7.9 earthquake was about 40 miles north-northwest of Kathmandu and “definitely related” to the northward push of India. Essentially, that’s the plate movements and fault structure that had been previously known.
Taylor does not yet know whether or not the earthquake is also related to the previously unknown east-west movement of the western Himalayas that he and his colleagues identified last year, as described in the previous story in Kansas Alumni magazine.
He said this quake was a “low-angle structure” with displacements directed north-south. “The peak ground accelerations were in and around Kathmandu,” Taylor said, noting that the devastation was made worse by Kathmandu’s “very poor infrastructure.”
Taylor is already writing a rapid-response grant proposal to the U.S. National Science Foundation and is looking for KU Department of Geology funds, in hopes of flying to Nepal for field work within a matter of weeks.
“7.9 is a really big earthquake, and it had a devastating effect,” Taylor said. “The estimates for people who have died will unfortunately probably climb rapidly.”
The University of Kansas announced the appointments of several new administrators this month. The new appointees include five individuals selected to fill vacancies, including an interim dean to serve while a nationwide search is planned to launch later this year to identify a new dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, KU’s broadest and most diverse academic unit. Read the full announcements at news.KU.edu by clicking on each headline below. Help us welcome these outstanding educators to the Jayhawk family:
January 7: University announces new dean of social welfare
Paul Smokowski, Distinguished Foundation Professor in Child and Adolescent Resilience in the Arizona State University School of Social Work, was named dean of the School of Social Welfare. Smokowski succeeds Mary Ellen Kondrat, who served as dean of the social welfare school for eight years before retiring in June 2014. He starts July 1. Read more.
January 13: James Tracy named new vice chancellor for research
James Tracy has been named KU’s new vice chancellor for research. He is the former vice president of research at the University of Kentucky and professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at the UK College of Medicine. Tracy will start April 1. Read more.
January 14: Associate Dean for the Humanities
Paul Kelton, associate professor of history, will begin the new appointment July 1. He has served the university in numerous capacities, including chair of the Department of History from 2008 to 2013, senior administrative fellow at KU and executive committee member of the Indigenous Studies Program. The position is a key administrative role in the College dean’s office. Kelton will supervise 14 departments and programs as well as the newly created School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures. Read more.
January 14: Don Steeples to become interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
KU geology professor Don Steeples has been named interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Steeples is the Dean A. McGee Distinguished Professor of Applied Geophysics in the College and a renowned seismology expert. He will begin his role in March 2015 as current dean Danny Anderson prepares to leave KU to become president of Trinity University. Read more.
January 15: KU names new director of student conduct, community standards The University of Kansas has named a new leader for the administration of the nonacademic conduct system for individual and organizational accountability. Lance Watson will join KU as director of student conduct and community standards Feb. 23.As director, he will oversee the university’s efforts to educate about and hold students accountable to the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities while also preserving students’ rights and helping them develop their decision-making abilities. Read more.