September 2012


Proudford Foundation Honors DSU's OrphageniX for Sickle Cell Research

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Dr. Eric Kmiec (third from the left) stands with his DSU researcher: (l-r) research associates Bryan Strouse, Rohina Niamat, Pawel Bialk; post doctorate researcher Dr. Dula Man, and doctoral student Shani Samuel.  

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OrphageniX, a biotechnology company based at Delaware State University, has been presented the Proudford Foundation Award for Research for its work in developing treatments for sickle cell disease.   Dr. Eric Kmiec, chair of the DSU Department of Chemistry and co-founder of OrphangeniX, accepted the award on behalf of the company’s research staff at the foundation’s annual awards dinner on Sept. 20 in Baltimore, Md. Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, DSU dean of the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology; Dr. Eric Kmiec, chair of the DSU Dept. of Chemistry and co-founder of OrphageniX; Karen Proudford, president of the Proudford Foundation Board of Directors, and DSU Provost Alton Thompson, celebrate the award.   The Proudford Foundation was established in the memory of DSU alumnus William E. Proudford, who passed away in 2004 at age 76 after a long and brave fight against sickle cell disease. Mr. Proudford graduated from then-Delaware State College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1974.   The scientific basis for OrphageniX was born in the Kmiec laboratory during the mid-1990s. The Kmiec group is well known for its work in the area of human gene therapy and molecular medicine. The company pioneered the concept of gene editing, a molecular process in which a synthetic piece of DNA is introduced into a human cell in order to direct the correction of a genetic mutation that causes an inherited disease. The repair of this inborn error in the chromosome can be thought of as a genetic “spell check” in which the misspelling of the word (or gene) is simply corrected and the disease state reversed.   During the time period between 2000-2006, the Kmiec lab studied and deciphered the molecular mechanism of action – how gene editing actually takes place inside the human cell. This effort was supported by multiple, peer-reviewed (R01) research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the highest level of scientific validation for any technology or research project. The Proudford Research Award has recognized this pioneering effort.   “The early years were challenging as the technology was matured, but now that gene editing has entered the mainstream of science, it was a worthwhile journey,” Dr. Kmiec said.   OrphageniX is now focused on creating a genetic treatment for sickle cell disease, a disorder caused by a single base mutation (misspelling) in a single gene – that is, a misspelled word in the genetic code. Funding for OrphageniX came from a small number of Delaware angel investors; no venture capital money has been put into OrphageniX. The company is privately held and is now an attractive investment opportunity. OrphageniX is now working with DSU and A.I. DuPont/Nemours Children’s Hospital to develop a unique partnership to apply gene editing to sickle cell disease focused in the Delaware Valley region.   This combination brings together strong basic scientists and highly respected clinicians with the central, interdisciplinary theme of translating this validated technology toward clinical application. DSU students, primarily African-American, are heavily involved in this project. OrphageniX is fundamentally committed to helping minority students pursue a career in gene therapy in support of inherited diseases such as sickle cell disease particularly at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.   “We are gratified that the Proudford Foundation has recognized the cutting-edge work that the DSU-based OrphageniX is doing in the area of sickle cell disease,” said Dr. Alton Thompson, DSU provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “I am certain that more positive developments are to come from this innovative biotechnology company as it seeks and finds significant advances against this disease.”   The mission of the Baltimore-based Proudford Foundation is to support sickle cell awareness, education, state-of-the-art treatment and research, and to bring hope to families affected by the devastating disease.

Royal Drummers & Dancers of Burundi to Perform at DSU Oct. 2

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The performance is free and open to the public. In the Education and Humanities Theatre at 8 p.m. on campus.
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The Burundi drummers and dancers will perform in the Education and Humanities Theatre on campus.

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The Burundi dancers are known for their graceful yet athletic moves. The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, one of the greatest percussion ensembles in the world, will give a performance at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 in the Education and Humanities Theatre at Delaware State University.   The performance is free and open to the public.   The dancers and drummers – which come from the African country of Burundi – will share their sacred rhythms and dance, which have been passed down through many centuries and preserved in this performing art form. Their performances are born of ceremonies, such as births, funerals and the enthronement of kings. The performing group uses a variety of large drums.   In Burundi (east-central Africa), drums are sacred and represent, along with the king, the powers of fertility and regeneration. As the origins of their performances are shrouded in ancient legend and mystery, the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi channel the energy and creative spirit of a nation through these drums and the rituals surrounding them.   The group utilizes a variety large drums – Ingoma – that are made from hollowed tree trunks covered with skin. The thunderous sound of the drums with the graceful yet athletic dance that are joined together in this masterful performance represents an important part of Burundi’s musical heritage.  

DSU CREOSA Awarded NSF Optics Research Grant

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(L-r) DSU Provost Alton Thompson, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, Dr. Noureddine Melikechi (principal investigator of the competitive grant), DSU President Harry L. Williams, U.S. Chris Coons, and U.S. Rep. John Carney gather after the announcement Sept. 27 of the $5 million research grant awarded to DSU.

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The National Science Foundation’s Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology has awarded Delaware State University a five-year $5 million grant in support of DSU’s Optics Program. Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, founding director of DSU's Optics Program, said this grant will help the University produce the next generation of optical scientist, many of whom will come from underrepresented minority groups.   DSU officials formally announced the grant at a Sept. 27 media event held in the University’s Administration Building.   The grant represents the NSF’s validation and financial renewal of DSU’s Center for Research Excellence in Optical Sciences and Applications (CREOSA) as a multidisciplinary program of research, education and outreach.  The five-year grant will fund CREOSA’s phase II work that will build on the accomplishments it has achieved over the previous half-decade.   CREOSA has been instrumental in the prolific development of DSU’s Optics Program. Over the last five years, CREOSA has established master and doctoral optics programs (DSU is the only school among Historically Black College and Universities with a Ph.D. optics program), has helped lead to the graduation of a new generation of optical scientists mostly from minority groups underrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) area, and assisted in the creation of a DSU culture of innovative integration to foster interdepartmental and multidisciplinary research and education.   Through this NSF funding, CREOSA will move to the next level of excellence and national prominence in research and education in the optical sciences, said Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, DSU’s dean of the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology and the vice president of research. He added the funding is critical to the growth of the DSU Optics Program and allows it to reach a point where it can be sustained.   “This grant provides mechanisms to inspire, encourage and train the next generation of optical scientists, and in particular students from underrepresented groups.” Dr. Melikechi said. “We will contribute to the growth of the ever growing field of optics by performing cutting-edge research that has the potential for profound impact on human health through the development of novel nano-opto medical technologies that can be used to detect early signs of diseases.”   According to Dr. Melikechi, who is the founding director of the Optics Program (established in 1998), DSU optics scientists will focus on three interconnected areas during phase II:   Spectroscopy and imaging of biomacromolecules in crowded and complex media. Spin polarization in nanodiamond for nanoscale sensing and imaging. Interactive data mining in experimental optics.   DSU President Harry L. Williams said the University is proud of the accomplishments of its Optics Program.   “Our Optics Program has truly taken on a profound life of its own, and this grant validates all the work that has led to its research accomplishments, collaborations with NASA on the current Mars mission, state funding support for a new optics research facility on campus, and many other achievements,” Dr. Williams said. “This communicates to DSU and the world that the National Science Foundation approves of our direction in optics and wants to see it continued.”   With the support of Delaware’s Congressional Delegation – who were all in attendance at the Sept. 27 media event – administration officials at DSU were able to secure funding to continue this cutting edge program.   “I am proud of DSU for receiving this funding, which will help to prepare a diverse student population to meet the global, scientific and technological challenges of tomorrow,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper, who along with Sen. Coons and Congressman Carney, worked with the DSU on its application to the NSF.  “DSU’s Optics program is vitally important because it is helping transform the university into a premier research institution.”   U.S. Sen. Chris Coons noted that the advanced research such as that which is taking place at DSU is helping to fuel innovative new business and create the next generation of manufacturing jobs.   “DSU's global — interplanetary — leadership in the field of optics is on display right now aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars,” Sen. Coons said. “This National Science Foundation grant will help DSU’s innovative research continue to inspire the next generation of scientists and expand the potential for this fascinating field of study.” Sen. Tom Carper chats with Dr. Renu Tripathi, assistant professor of optics.   U.S. Rep. John Carney noted that in just a few short years, Delaware State University has developed a world-class optics research center that has already accomplished a great deal. The congressman said that he is looking forward to the seeing what the future holds for DSU’s Optics Program.   "I'm excited that the funding announced today will continue the project well into the future. The Optics Center attracts some of the nation's best and brightest students, gives them unparalleled opportunities while in school, and prepares them for successful careers after graduation,” Rep. Carney said. “It also strengthens the economy by creating jobs and adding more trained, qualified people to the workforce.”   The NSF grant is the latest in a line of funding support that the DSU Optics Program has attracted since its inception. Over the last six years, it has secured $23 million in federal funding. CREOSA was initially created in 2006 by a $5 million NSF grant. Three years later, the Optics Program received a $5 million NASA grant for the establishment of a Center for Applied Optics for Space Science (CAOSS) on campus.   In addition, last year the state of Delaware allocated $10 million toward the construction of a new optics research facility on campus. The University is currently in the design phase of that major capital project.   The two centers now operate under the University’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research (OSCAR). A group of optics faculty and students join Dr. Noureddine Melikechi for a celebratory photograph.                    

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