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Rensselaer Professor Ryan Gilbert receives NSF CAREER award

Troy, N.Y. Ryan Gilbert, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Gilbert will use the projected five-year, $500,000 award to develop new biomaterials for the treatment of spinal cord injuries. The CAREER Award is given to faculty members at the beginning of their academic careers and is one of NSF's most competitive awards, placing emphasis on high-quality research and novel education initiatives.

"We congratulate Dr. Gilbert for being selected to receive an NSF CAREER Award to support his leading-edge biomaterials research," said David Rosowsky, dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer. "The CAREER Award is one of the highest honors a young faculty member can receive, and Ryan is certainly deserving of this national recognition."

With his CAREER project, titled "Study of Astrocyte Migration and Reactivity Using Novel Biomaterial Platforms," Gilbert seeks to innovate a solution to the known problem of astrocyte reactivity. Individuals who suffer spinal cord injuries often lose body function below the injury site, which can lead to lifelong paralysis. Currently, there are no federally approved biological or drug-based treatments to restore this lost functionality, Gilbert said.

Gilbert's goal is to develop new biomaterials to reduce or eliminate the reactivity of astrocytes, glial cells found in the scar tissues of the spinal cord that are known to inhibit nerve regeneration. Additionally, Gilbert and his research team will develop polymer spheres that can travel through glial cells and scar tissue in order to deliver therapies to coax axons into the injury site. By delivering these therapies directly to the injury site and weakening the inhibitory nature of astrocytes, these new materials could aid the regeneration of nerve axons, he said. This research holds the promise of informing a new framework for developing novel strategies and treatments for spinal cord injury.

This research will be conducted in the world-class Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer.

Along with educating undergraduates and graduate students in the areas of spinal cord injury research, advanced microscopy, and biomaterial fabrication, Gilbert's research program supports educational outreach initiatives to engage elementary, junior high school, and high school students about these important topics.

Gilbert joined the Rensselaer faculty in 2010, after serving as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Michigan Technological University (MTU). In 2008, he was inducted into MTU's Academy of Teaching Excellence. At Rensselaer, Gilbert currently advises four graduate students and five undergraduate students.

Gilbert received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University.

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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