NMSU chemical, materials engineering professor receives $1.1 million grant

New Mexico State University Chemical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor Jessica P. Houston has been awarded a four-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of General Medical Sciences for her project titled “Microflow Time-resolved Cytometry for FRET and Fluorescent Protein Development.”

Jessica Houston, New Mexico State University Chemical and Materials Engineering associate professor, has been awarded a four-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s General Medical Sciences. Her project will provide support for both graduate and undergraduate students to conduct biomedical research. (NMSU photo by Andres Leighton

“This project is supported by the Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and will incorporate interdisciplinary science, which I believe is important for the training of graduate and undergraduate students at NMSU,” Houston said. “Our research aims are to build and test a new type of time-resolved flow cytometer to be used for a few key biomedical applications.”

Houston said her cytometry colleagues inspired this project.

“Over the years I have sought out collaborators whose research in cellular and molecular sciences could benefit from our innovations, and when I wrote this proposal I had imagined a new technology with the capacity to analyze cells in a way that significantly enhances their research,” she said. “Yet, I also contemplated on how our capabilities could be broadly impacting. I really wanted to build infrastructure in this area and being that I am so familiar with the needs and challenges in flow cytometry, I was able to identify a creative solution. It is a significant amount of funding, as an R01 project, and therefore it really solidifies my laboratory as the leading developer in lifetime-based cytomics.”

A flow cytometer is an instrument that measures cells very rapidly while simultaneously evaluating cellular features. This device is often used in life science research, biomedicine and diagnostics for clinical cell analysis. Houston has been creating new ways to measure fluorescence dynamics with flow cytometers. 

“Our aims will include design of a new microfluidic flow cytometer with many unique features. I plan to add imaging, cell sorting, fluorescence lifetime measurements and acoustic focusing of cells,” she said. “This type of instrument would be modular and I hope it can be packaged in a way that permits outside laboratories to use it.”

Houston added the project is very technical because of the interdisciplinary nature. A range of expertise is important for the success, so possible challenges may involve design, assembly, optimization and biosample preparation.

Currently, Houston is completing the fall 2018 semester in Japan at Saitama University in the Graduate School of Science and Engineering after receiving a Fulbright Faculty Fellowship to work alongside Professor Miho Suzuki, a biochemist, and her students. The pair has been collaborating for many years. 

Houston will return to NMSU for the spring 2019 semester. She was accompanied in Japan by her family, husband, Kevin D. Houston, a chemistry and biochemistry associate professor, and their three children, Joaquin, Kaleb and Kyraluna. 

 


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