Chen receives NSF CAREER Award
Dr. Zhilei Chen, a researcher in the Chemical
Engineering Division of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station
(TEES), has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development
(CAREER) Award sponsored by the National Science Foundation
Chen is also an assistant professor in the
Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M
As a recipient of the prestigious award, Chen
will receive $400,000 throughout the next five years for her
research, which will develop a novel protein polymer hydrogel
as a general scaffold for the immobilization of enzymes and
Enzymes are versatile catalysts and are playing
an increasingly prominent role in modern biotechnology, Chen notes.
However, poor long-term stability and difficulties in recovery and
recycling of enzymes in solution have greatly hampered their
usefulness in biotransformation, she says.
Immobilization of enzymes on solid supports can
significantly enhance their stability and enable convenient
recycling and recovery. Chen's proposed protein hydrogel takes
advantage of intein-mediated protein splicing/ligation to form an
inter-connected network of protein polymers. Successful completion
of this project will provide a general method for the synthesis of
protein hydrogels that densely and efficiently incorporate multiple
bioactive proteins with a highly controlled molecular architecture,
Insights from these studies, she adds, will
benefit several industries employing biocatalytic processes;
advance the ability to assemble efficient enzymatic pathways for
biotransformation and enzymatic fuel cells; and facilitate the
creation of new bioactive protein hydrogel scaffolds for tissue
engineering and drug delivery applications.
Chen completed her undergraduate studies at
East China Normal University in Shanghai, China in 2000, and earned
her Ph.D. at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2006. She
went to the Rockefeller University for postdoctoral studies before
joining Texas A&M's chemical engineering department in
At Texas A&M, Chen's research focuses on
applying protein engineering principles for biotechnology
applications. One of her interests is to develop new proteinacious
material for use in tissue engineering and biofuel cells, such as
protein hydrogels as protein/enzyme immobilization scaffolds. She
is also working on engineering agents for the treatment of various
viral infections, including hepatitis C virus and HIV, and the
identification of novel drug targets.
The CAREER Award was established to support
junior faculty within the context of their overall career
development, combining in a single program the support of research
and education of the highest quality and in the broadest sense.
Through this program, the NSF emphasizes the importance on the
early development of academic careers dedicated to stimulating the
discovery process in which the excitement of research is enhanced
by inspired teaching and enthusiastic learning.
TEES is an engineering research agency of the State of Texas and
a member of The Texas A&M University System.