RFA Awardees

2019 Scientific Research Initiative Awardees


  • Principal investigator Evan Keller, Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator Tom Wilson, Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator Jun Li, Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator Arvind Rao, Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator Sunitha Nagrath, College of Engineering
  • Co-principal investigator Justin Colacino, School of Public Health

This program plans to bring next-generation, cellular, high-content technology to a tissue spatial context. Providing tissue spatial context to cellular transcriptomes, proteins and DNA variations will transform our understanding of complex tissues.

spatially-defined transcripts and proteins image

Spatially-defined transcripts & proteins

With the opportunity for three new expert faculty recruits and strengthened shared resources, the Biosciences Initiative support will benefit not only the recruits, but also the large number of existing faculty looking to pursue scientific questions that were inaccessible with past technologies.

This program envisions building a collaborative community focused on spatial transcriptomics analysis projects by hosting seminars and workshops, mentoring, referrals and highly leveraged projects for platform development and scientific exploration.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator David Kohn, School of Dentistry and College of Engineering
  • Co-principal investigator William Giannobile, School of Dentistry
  • Co-principal investigator Kurt Hankenson, Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator Jan Stegemann, College of Engineering
  • Co-principal investigator Lonnie Shea, College of Engineering

Jaw and teeth Xray

Musculoskeletal, oral and craniofacial tissues, including bone, cartilage, muscle, ligaments and skin, are comprised of multiple cell populations that are well organized to fulfill functional requirements.

Leveraging existing expertise in biomaterials and musculoskeletal tissue engineering, this project aims to fill critical gaps at U-M in imaging and computational design of materials.

With support from the Biosciences Initiative, these investigators plan to develop advanced materials that control the programming of cells and the resulting spatio-temporal organization into functional 3-D tissues.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Co-principal investigator Steven P. Schwendeman, College of Pharmacy
  • Co-principal investigator Maria Castro, Medical School

brain tumor scanMany biomedical research scientists dream of technological discoveries that will someday successfully treat sick people. This project proposes to make those dreams a reality for brain cancer treatment and prognosis by creating a brain cancer thrust area within the Biointerfaces Institute at U-M.

With the Biosciences Initiative support for this project, U-M has the potential to become a world leader in the development and translation of new, advanced technological innovations for helping brain cancer patients.

Learn more from the executive summary.

2019 Exploratory Opportunity Awardee


  • Principal investigator Ken Cadigan, LSA
  • Co-principal investigator Laura Buttitta, LSA
  • Co-principal investigator Cora MacAlister, LSA
  • Co-principal investigator Tim James, LSA
  • Co-principal investigator Anthony Antonellis, Medical School.

Centered around answering basic and disease-related biological questions, this project aims to improve the university’s organismal repertoire by increasing its diversity of model systems.

To accomplish this, this multidisciplinary group of researchers proposes to design and host a seminar series focused on emerging model system biology, featuring leaders in these topics. Visiting experts will give a public seminar highlighting how they use emerging model systems to address important biological questions.

Learn more from the executive summary.

2018 Scientific Research Initiative Awardees

Investigator: Steve Broglio, School of Kinesiology
Website: concussion.umich.edu

concussion graphicConcussion (mild traumatic brain injury) is a major public health concern facing the medical community and society at large in the United States and worldwide. In many ways, concussion research is in its infancy relative to moderate and severe brain injury, with substantial gaps in our fundamental understanding of injury prevention, pathophysiology, diagnostics, management, outcomes, and financial impact. With support of the Biosciences Initiative, 24 faculty and staff from 13 distinct University of Michigan units have joined to form The Michigan Concussion Center. This center will provide the necessary infrastructure to advance concussion knowledge and health care by implementing a multi-disciplinary approach that advances patient health. Researchers will conduct multi-disciplinary research answering fundamental questions on concussion injury prevention, pathophysiology, diagnostics, management, outcomes, and financial impact.

Michigan Concussion Center grantee presentation

Grantee PI Steve Broglio presents at the 2018 BSI Kickoff.

The center’s structure revolves around three cores with distinct, yet mutually supportive functions: 1) the Research Core; 2) the Clinical Core; and 3) the Outreach & Translation Core. The vision of The Michigan Concussion Center is to become an international leader in concussion research, care, and education by unifying diverse faculty from across the University of Michigan to advance patient health by conducting multi-disciplinary research. The center will approach its research endeavors in a way that translates laboratory, clinic, and community observations into interventions intended to reduce concussion risk and improve outcomes in those affected by the injury.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator: Allen Burton, SEAS
  • Co-principal investigator: Inés Ibáñez, SEAS
  • Co-principal investigator: Allison Steiner, College of Engineering
  • Co-principal investigator: Knute Nadelhoffer, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Website: seas.umich.edu/research/centers_institutes/global_change_biology/mission

Global change biology seeks to understand the biosphere’s responses to human activities, including: climate shifts, land-use conversion, release of pollutants, and species introductions. Although organisms have modified the earth’s climate in the past, current human activities are exerting an unprecedented impact on the rate of environmental change. These environmental challenges are complex and difficult to approach; simply identifying the trends or organisms’ responses to stressors is not enough. Research needs to shift towards generating forecasts that combine changes, impacts, and responses to assist science-based decision making relevant to society.

Institute for Global Change Biology grantee presentation

Grantee PI Allen Burton presents at the 2018 BSI Kickoff.

The Institute for Global Change Biology will answer this need by fostering research to understand and forecast the interactive effects of global change drivers on organisms and ecosystems. The mission for the institute is to: 1) understand the effects of global change biology; 2) develop decision-making frameworks; 3) identify forecast indicators; 4) develop forecast models; and 5) focus on issues that inform decision-makers. The Biosciences Initiative support serves as a planning grant to launch the program and create the institute; a larger, more comprehensive program is expected to follow.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator: David Sherman, LSI and College of Pharmacy
  • Co-principal investigator: Ashootosh Tripathi, LSI and College of Pharmacy

Website: lsi.umich.edu/science/centers-technologies/natural-products-discovery-core

Academic drug discovery is a crucial enterprise at research intensive universities, and these efforts have been expanding at the University of Michigan over the past 15 years. Not only does this work facilitate the drive to identify new disease targets, train the next generation of scientists and support basic research, but it also offers a fantastic opportunity to build sustainable funding sources through licensing of technology and high value molecules. Access to small molecules that offer potential to generate strong composition of matter intellectual property is a cornerstone of a sustainable drug discovery program.

Natural Products Discovery grantee presentation

Grantee PI David Sherman presents at the 2018 BSI Kickoff.

The Expanding Natural Product Drug Discovery at the University of Michigan Biosciences Synergy Initiative is positioned to expand and fill important gaps in an already unique strength at Michigan: its one-of-a-kind natural products drug discovery capabilities. To do so, this program will add three new faculty hires to accommodate and synergize in the field of natural product sciences and build a state-of-the-art Natural Products Discovery Core in the Life Sciences Institute. These additions will provide effective, responsive, and high value access to new chemical matter, positioned readily for downstream transformation into unique, bioactive, patentable small molecules with high potential for development into effective therapeutics against a broad range of human diseases.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator: Melanie Ohi, LSI and Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator: Janet Smith, LSI and Medical School
  • Co-principal investigator: Michael Cianfrocco, LSI and Medical School

Website: lsi.sites.uofmhosting.net/science/centers-technologies/cryo-electron-microscopy

Structural biology uncovers the details of biological materials, proteins and other macromolecules, connecting their form and function. Determining the relationship between their shape at an atomic level and their cellular function provides insights into molecular mechanisms that impact human health and disease. The classic example of the impact of structural biology is the discovery of the structure of DNA by Franklin, Crick, and Watson, which immediately explained how DNA encodes information and suggested a model of inheritance.

The Future of Cryo-EM at U-M grantee presentation

Grantee PI Melanie Ohi presents at the 2018 BSI Kickoff.

Funding from the Bioscience Initiative will allow the University of Michigan to invest in: (1) using new cryo-EM technologies to visualize molecular machines inside intact cells, (2) solving systemic bottlenecks in the cryo-EM “sample-to-structure” pipeline, and (3) becoming a leading international site for education of new cryo-EM practitioners. This cryo-EM initiative draws on a combination of strong partnerships with departments, schools, and core facilities across campus and with industry to position U-M at the forefront of this rapidly evolving field, to allow U-M researchers to embrace the current “resolution revolution” in cryo-EM, and to make U-M an international leader and premier destination for cryo-EM education.

Learn more from the executive summary.

The annual summer workshop in cryo-EM data processing is postponed until 2021 to align with U-M’s ongoing efforts to respond to the pandemic to encourage social distancing.


  • Principal investigator: Nils Walter, Chemistry, Biophysics and Biological Chemistry
  • Co-principal investigator: Mats Ljungman, Medical School

Website: rna.umich.edu

Revolutionary discoveries in the biosciences recently have revealed that ribonucleic acid (RNA) is critical for most aspects of human health, and that its misregulation is responsible for many diseases. Recent research shows that the range of cellular RNAs has expanded to include short and long non-coding RNAs. Although discoveries uncovering their full functions in human physiology are only beginning to emerge, it’s already understood that these short and long non-coding RNAs profoundly impact all cellular processes, from stem cell differentiation to cancer. These revelations provide an unprecedented opportunity to invest in advanced studies of RNA as a gateway to precision medicine.

RNA Biomedicine grantee presentation

Grantee PI Nils Walter presents at the 2018 BSI Kickoff.

Emerging in parallel are revolutionary new technologies for RNA analysis, ranging from single molecule microscopy and next-generation sequencing to genome editing, ushering in an abundant era of both discovery research and medical translation in RNA biomedicine that is beginning to go “viral.” In response to these opportunities, a grassroots effort of unmatched proportions – involving approximately 150 faculty from across campus – began in 2016 to move the University of Michigan toward a leadership position in the biosciences by forming the nascent Center for RNA Biomedicine. We will now leverage the enthusiasm, energy and synergy of this emergent movement by creating a comprehensive Biosciences Scientific Research Initiative in RNA, enacting multiple foundational faculty hires and implementing innovative campus-wide resources, with the goal of establishing U-M as a world leader in RNA biomedicine.

Learn more from the executive summary.

Explore RNA Translated, the Center for RNA Biomedicine’s annual magazine. It includes the latest updates and focuses on “2020, the year of the RNA viruses,” with special contributions from 10 RNA faculty members. Also featured are two core facilities and highlights on the Center’s 2020 activity, demonstrating the strong impact and achievements of the scientific collaborations within U-M’s RNA research community.

2018 Exploratory Opportunity Awardees


  • Principal investigator: David Antonetti, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Ann Miller, LSA
  • Co-investigator: Anuska Andjelkovic-Zochowska, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Asma Nusrat, Medical School

Multicellular organisms require maintenance of defined environments provided by tissue barriers for proper function. Nearly every organ system in the human body requires some degree of barrier formation – whether it is in epithelial sheets coating organs or lining ducts, or in endothelial tubes of vessels. These barriers are often disrupted in disease conditions. However, developing methods to safely and specifically deliver therapeutics across these barriers remains a major challenge, particularly for diseases of the nervous system.

The Biosciences Initiative Funding Opportunity provides an opportunity to build upon the University of Michigan’s current strength in Barriers Biology by further developing our expertise and encouraging new collaborations among barriers researchers. The focus of The Role of Tissue Barriers in Health and Disease is to recruit outside experts to work alongside U-M experts to facilitate two multi-day workshops on emerging areas for the Michigan Barriers Biology community.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator: Christopher Friese, School of Nursing
  • Co-investigator: Jeff DeGraff, Ross School of Business
  • Co-investigator: Sarah Hawley, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Kenneth Resnicow, School of Public Health

Faculty members affiliated with The Center for Improving Patient and Population Health (CIPPH) have demonstrated expertise in improving the health and well-being of at-risk populations. Examples include improving the treatment experience for patients with cancer, applying simulation science to enhance clinical preparedness, and using novel web-based interventions to reduce environmental hazards.

The Applying an Innovation Framework to Improve Health in Rural Populations project vision is to bring this diverse expertise together in novel ways to transform the well-being of individuals who are historically underserved, with an emphasis on rural residents. To advance this vision, a state-of-the-science workshop will develop to identify the most pressing gaps in rural health conducive to Michigan faculty expertise, apply an innovation framework to forge partnerships with experts and key stakeholders, and secure robust, sustainable funding.

Learn more from the executive summary.


  • Principal investigator: Sundeep Kalantry, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Uhn-soo Cho, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Yali Dou, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Shigeki Iwase, Medical School
  • Co-investigator: Kaushik Ragunathan, Medical School

Single cell transcriptional profiling has revealed considerable heterogeneity of gene expression even within genetically identical populations of cells. These differences are postulated to contribute to cell fate decisions both during normal development and in diseases. However, the source of this transcriptional heterogeneity is unclear. Changes in the chromatin state of defined loci are prime candidates to underlie transcriptional heterogeneity between cells with an apparently identical developmental potential. However, single-cell chromatin profiling and single-locus chromatin proteomics remain a significant hurdle in the field of chromatin biology, especially at increasingly low-input and higher resolution levels.

With support from the Biosciences Initiative, we will develop, import, and distribute to the University of Michigan research community reagents and technologies that will enable single-cell and locus-specific chromatin proteomics. This capability will help illumine fundamental mechanisms underlying cell- and locus-specific transcriptional heterogeneities both during normal development and in disease.

Learn more from the executive summary.

Investigator: Jonathan Sexton, Medical School

The traditional drug development process has a timeline of 11–18 years and costs approximately $1–3 billion dollars to bring a novel drug to market. This timeline results in a decades-long delay between advances in basic biomedical science and effective therapies for unmet medical needs. Discovering new uses for existing drugs can offer the shortest path from initial discovery to clinical use as well as reduce the cost of development and reduce risk in commercialization.

The U-M Re-Targeting Discovery Platform will create a drug repurposing platform consisting of a comprehensive collection of clinically-evaluated small molecules and an associated informatics resource to enhance drug discovery and translational medicine research at the University of Michigan. This clinically-evaluated compound collection will stimulate innovation and help address unmet medical needs by connecting the wealth of biological models in the U-M research community with highly translatable and actionable hits from in vitro screening.

Learn more from the executive summary.