New grants fuel ASU bioscience research

November 13, 2019

Four faculty members from Arizona State University received grants from the Flinn Foundation to further their bioscience research. The projects will work to develop a material that will help heal rotator cuff tears; create technology to map the brain’s cellular activity during opioid addiction; find genetic variants related to Type 2 diabetes in underrepresented populations; and nanoengineer cardiac tissue to fix damage caused by a heart attack.

The Flinn Foundation is a philanthropic organization that awards grants to nonprofit organizations to “improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations.” Smith, Holloway, Liu and Nikkhah 2019 Flinn Foundation grant winners. Left to right: Barbara Smith, Julianne Holloway, Li Liu, Mehdi Nikkhah Download Full Image

Julianne Holloway received a 2019 Flinn Foundation Seed Grants to Promote Translational Research award through a program to identify projects that could address well-defined clinical needs. It helps scientists reach their next development milestones faster, enabling them to compete for new funding.

Mehdi Nikkhah, Li Liu and Barbara Smith each received a Flinn Foundation NIH Bridge-Funding Initiative award, part of a new program that supports scientists while they prepare to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health, especially for projects related to NIH High Priority or Challenge areas.

“A state that aims to outcompete its peers in National Institutes of Health funding needs mechanisms to help promising researchers cross the finish line,” said Mary O’Reilly, vice president of bioscience research programs at the Flinn Foundation.

NIH research project grants are extremely competitive, with an average of fewer than 1 in 4 applications getting funded. Researchers often apply multiple times before receiving an award.

“These researchers have each recently submitted a grant request to NIH, have had their proposals reviewed, but remain unfunded,” O’Reilly said. “The Flinn funds provide them with the opportunity to do necessary work to strengthen their proposals and prepare to resubmit.”

Assistant Professor Julianne Holloway

Shouldering the challenge of healing rotator cuffs

Injuries to the group of muscles and tendons covering the shoulder joint — known as the rotator cuff — are very common, but recovering from such an injury is a tricky matter. That’s because the body can’t regenerate a special type of tissue that transitions from rope-like, fibrous tissue to mineralized bone.

Holloway, an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, aims to solve this problem by engineering a new material that can mimic the natural gradients in that tissue and help guide its repair. This will require new manufacturing methods. She will develop a new technique for a fiber production method known as magnetically assisted electrospinning so that it can create independent, precise gradients in fiber alignment and mineralization.

The potential applications of this work extend beyond rotator cuff tears, and could also help heal ACL, meniscus and other fibrous tissue injuries.

Mehdi Nikkhah

A change of heart tissue

Heart attacks — which affect about 735,000 people in the U.S. every year — injure the heart muscle by restricting blood supply. As the muscle heals afterward, it develops scar tissue, which isn’t able to pump blood as well.

Nikkhah, an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, seeks to engineer new heart tissue that can repair damaged muscle. His laboratory combines biomaterials, micro and nanoscale technologies, and biology to create regenerative medicine strategies that treat organ and tissue failure.

His project will involve single-cell nanoengineering to create biomimetic cardiac micro-tissue. He will also use in vitro tissue engineering strategies, as well as in vivo studies, to model diseased heart tissue and study how cells function in that environment.

Assistant Professor Li Liu

Detecting diabetes DNA

Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 90% to 95% of those cases are Type 2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this form of the disease is more prevalent among American Indians and Alaska Natives, non-Hispanic African Americans, and people of Hispanic ethnicity. However, less health and genetic data is available to represent these groups in scientific studies.

Liu, an assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions, will be working to create a new computational method that assesses the function of genetic variants that are tied to Type 2 diabetes. She then plans to use this method to search for genetic risk factors of the disease in underrepresented populations.

Working with researchers at Mayo Clinic, Liu will test if adding these factors to the usual suite of established risk factors will help doctors more accurately predict individuals’ diabetes risk as well as diabetes prevalence at the population level.

Assistant Professor Barbara Smith

Mapping the brain’s pathways

Current thought holds that drugs of abuse create addiction because they increase dopamine levels in the brain. This trains dopamine-releasing neurons to travel along a drug-reward pathway, creating a neurocircuit.

Smith, an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, will work to build a powerful new tool that can examine cellular activity in the deep brain. The technology she proposes features a feedback system that uses light and sound — fluorescence and photoacoustics — to identify, target, stimulate, record and adjust that activity.

This tool would then allow her to investigate regions in the brain’s mesolimbic system, which is sometimes called the reward pathway, to explore the ways the brain adapts to addiction.

Her approach will have applications beyond addiction, helping researchers study neurological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy and pain.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Urban Sol: 'A representation of US'

Communitywide event highlights street arts culture in the Valley of the Sun

November 13, 2019

Urban Sol, a cross-institute initiative in Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, shines a light on street arts culture with DJs, MCs, aeroSOUL artists and dancers in the Valley of the Sun. This year Urban Sol includes five dynamic events over the course of three days, each featuring different aspects of hip-hop and street culture. Urban Sol launches Thursday, Nov. 14 and culminates Saturday, Nov. 16 with the Main Event. 

The theme for Urban Sol 2019 is “US.”  people breakdancing Urban Sol 2018. Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

“Urban Sol has grown to become a staple and is one of the most anticipated events within the Herberger Institute and Phoenix community,” said new festival director House Magana. “It’s an introduction for some and a light and voice for others — a representation of US.” 

Magana is an ASU alumnus and is the first b-boyAlso known as breakdancing: to graduate from the MFA in dance program. He joined the faculty in August of this year to teach urban movement classes and direct this year’s events, contributing to the growth and development of Urban Sol. He said one of the goals of Urban Sol is “to continue to take notice of the urban arts movement and the importance of the movement to teach and to address pressing issues of concern for the community.” 

Urban Sol 2019 launches at 4 p.m. Nov. 14 with a crossover event, Fader Manners and Letter Bending Graf Jam, at one Phoenix’s prominent hip-hop shops, Trill. Phoenix-based DJ Akshen created Fader Manners as a space for novice and master DJs to sharpen their needles and skills in a judgement-free atmosphere. The scratch deejaying event will be held inside Trill while the Letter Bending Graf Jam happens concurrently outside. The outdoor event features national and internationally recognized graffiti artists, also known as writers, who will create and educate as a part of five different “Knowledge Sessions” or workshops. All ages and skill levels are encouraged to attend in the spirit of “each one, teach one” — a philosophy of learning that is the bedrock of street culture. 

Urban Sol moves to Arizona State University’s Tempe campus Friday morning for Hip Hop Matters, a remixed version of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre's long-established Dance Matters series. Hip Hop Matters is open to the public.

This year, Urban Sol adds a Friday evening film night to the programming, highlighting feature films by Iam Artson and Shero Collective at Sun Studios of Arizona. The Shero Collective is a pro-social community initiative spearheaded by producer Carla A. Silveira-Hernandez “to highlight the behind-the-scenes stories, people and relationships that elevate the social fabric of hip-hop culture.” This screening of shorts will be followed by a documentary produced by Odin EYES Creations featuring Iam Artson’s “The Making of a Brave Star,” which explores the process of creating music for Artson’s album "Brave Star" and his road trip to various music festivals. There will be a Q&A with the producers of each project following the screenings. 

Graffiti art at Urban Sol 2018

Urban Sol 2018. Photo by Tim Trumble.

The Main Event on Saturday lands back at ASU when both the ASU and metro Phoenix hip-hop communities gather outside ASU’s Galvin Playhouse, located at 10th Street and Mill Avenue near the ASU Art Museum. 

This year’s program features a 3 vs. 3 dance battle format for dancers and a "scratch battle" called Kut the Weight, the latter of which is for emerging and established DJs in three different “weight classes”: lightweight (novice), middleweight (developing) and heavyweight (established). 

Armani Moten, a second-year dance major, said she is thrilled to participate in this year’s dance battles while also meeting new communities. “You don’t have to be a trained dancer to be a part of this event,” she said. “There are many events to get in where you fit in!” 

The night also includes performances by ASU alumni and the Phoenix street dance scene, along with special performances by iconic MCs Legend Medusa and Supernatural. 

"An MC, dancer and queen on the mic, Medusa represents the empowering truth that speaks to US all,” Magana said. And Supernatural, who Magana said is known for his on-the-spot freestyle and battle rap abilities, will bring “his mastery and skills in the purest form to Urban Sol engaging all in the experience and lived moment.” 

“What started off as a one day hip-hop festival has shapeshifted and evolved alongside the communities of culture here in metro Phoenix and with the Herberger Institute’s vision to be culturally competent and aware of its positions within the arts ecology of Arizona,” said Marcus White, assistant professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Urban Sol helped set the stage for urban arts to drive collaboration between universities and communities. A lot has shifted over the last decade and Urban Sol must also shift and adapt. I am excited to see how Urban Sol continues to evolve as we embark on the 10th anniversary of the event in 2021.” 

Urban Sol 2019

Thursday, Nov. 14
Fader Manners and Letter Bending 
4-9 p.m., Trill Hip Hop Shop, 1817 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix

Friday, Nov. 15
Hip Hop Matters
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre, Bulldog Hall, ASU’s Tempe campus

Friday Night Films: Shero Collective and Making of a Brave Star
8-10:30 p.m., Sun Studios of Arizona, 1425 W. 14th St., Tempe

Saturday, Nov. 16
The Main Event
2-9 p.m., Nelson Fine Arts Center Plaza, ASU’s Tempe campus

Urban Sol is the first of three initiatives that comprise Sol Motion — using social dance movement and culture for SOLcial change. Supported in part by ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the program is rooted in and informed by “community engaged practice” to uplift community partnerships and knowledge as essential within the ecology of urban arts and culture.