The Mahoney Life Sciences Prize is an annual competition for CNS scientists engaged in high-impact life sciences research.

Made possible through the generosity of the Mahoney family, the prize recognizes UMass Amherst scientists whose work has the potential for advancing connections between research and industry.

The Prize includes an award of $10,000 and is awarded annually to one faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in life sciences research, and whose work significantly advances connections between academic research and industry. Read more and view past recipients.

Mahoney Prize 2019 Recipient

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S. "Thai" Thayumanavan

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Dutta, K., Hu, D., Zhao, B., Ribbe, A. E., Zhuang, J., & Thayumanavan, S. (2017). Templated Self-Assembly of a Covalent Polymer Network for Intracellular Protein Delivery and Traceless Release. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 139(16), 5676–5679.

S. Thai Thayumanavan

Protein-based drugs have great potential for improving our ability to treat disease. In comparison to current drugs that are based on small molecules, drugs composed of proteins are more effective for addressing specific genetic deficiencies without undesirable side effects. However, there are major challenges in delivering proteins into and within a cell. These challenges are related to keeping the protein stable, avoiding unwanted immune system response, and translocating the protein across the cellular membrane.
This study presents a novel and practical strategy which simultaneously overcomes all of these challenges. In this strategy, the polymers self-assemble to form a sheath around the protein, analogous to "shrink-wrapping" the protein. The polymer sheath encapsulates proteins, preserves their structure and function during delivery, and releases them when the assembly enters the cell cytosol. The polymers do not provoke an unwanted immune system response, and do not leaving any residue behind. This strategy is applicable to a broad range of proteins, and the sheath can be designed to release its cargo under various conditions. In addition to the applications for protein therapeutics and devices, the technology can be used to design reagents for basic biochemical research. Dr. Thayumanavan is currently working with industry partners toward both applications, in part through his start-up company, Cyta Therapeutics.

Read more about S. "Thai" Thayumanavan.

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CNS has great breadth and depth in the spectrum of types of life sciences research. Here are some of the leaders and innovators.

Lynn Adler

Professor, Department of Biology

Giacomini, J. J., Leslie, J., Tarpy, D. R., Palmer-Young, E. C., Irwin, R. E., & Adler, L. S. (2018). Medicinal value of sunflower pollen against bee pathogens. Scientific Reports, 8(1).

Pollinators provide billions of dollars in crop pollination annually, and are critical for preserving plant biodiversity. Concerns about pollinator declines have spurred research into a wide range of stressors, including loss of habitat, pesticide exposure, nutritional deficits, and parasites. Parasites have been implicated in the declines and even disappearance of many bee species, but it may be challenging to identify solutions that reduce bee parasites without reliance on chemicals. With a diversity of challenges, a diversity of solutions will be needed to reverse declines. Governments, industry stakeholders, and the public are now invested in and committed to developing policies that promote bee health, but in many cases we lack solutions that are simple, concrete, and easily implemented. Our research team recently made an astounding and potentially transformative discovery. We found that in the common eastern bumble bee, an abundant native pollinator, sunflower pollen dramatically reduced infection by a prevalent gut pathogen, up to 37 times lower than other pollen treatments. Also, free-flying bumble bee workers collected from farms had lower incidence of infection when there was more sunflower at the farm, indicating the potential for sunflower plantings to reduce infection. Moreover, sunflower pollen may have broad medicinal effects against other bee parasites; we found that sunflower pollen reduced a microsporidian pathogen and Deformed Wing Virus in honey bees in lab trials. These results indicate the exciting possibility that sunflower pollen reduces diverse parasites in multiple bee species, with potential to develop non-chemical pollen supplements as treatments for both bumble bees and honey bees.

Read more about Lynn Adler.

Peter Chien

Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Joshi, K. K., Bergé, M., Radhakrishnan, S. K., Viollier, P. H., & Chien, P. (2015). An Adaptor Hierarchy Regulates Proteolysis during a Bacterial Cell Cycle. Cell, 163(2), 419–431.

The alarming increase in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections has made the discovery of new antibiotics a critical human health priority. Why have drug resistant bacteria emerged so quickly? One major factor is that all current antibiotics work by killing bacteria completely. While it is true that dead bacteria cannot infect hosts, this approach also creates tremendous pressure for the bacteria to evolve resistance mechanisms. Give that the human microbiome consists of billions of bacteria that are cordially living with their host, it is clear that the problem is not the simple presence of bacteria, but rather certain bacteria in a virulent state. Therefore, a better strategy is to selectively inhibit bacterial virulence, rather than to kill bacteria completely, in order to reduce the pressure to evolve resistance.

All known human pathogens require proteases, which are enzymes that break down proteins, to be infectious. This work focuses on a protease called ClpXP. The bacterium Caulobacter crescentus requires ClpXP when it invades a host as a pathogen, but does not need the protease for regular, non-virulent growth. ClpXP is therefore an ideal target for selective inhibition of bacterial virulence.

This study helps us understand how ClpXP selects certain proteins to break down at certain times. It elucidates the process by which various adaptors work together to select proteins and make them available to the ClpXP, so that ClpXP can destroy them. With this understanding, we can identify ways to block the process. We can also extend the findings in this particular case of C. crescentus to bacteria that pose grave threats to human health, such as Staphyloccus, Vibrio cholera, and Brucella abortus. In addition, because the ClpXP protease in the mitochondria of eukaryotic cells is very closely related to this system, we suspect that our work will inform the growing role of mitochondrial quality control in many human diseases, including cancer.

Read more about Peter Chien.

Lili He

Associate Professor, Department of Food Science

Yang, T., Doherty, J., Zhao, B., Kinchla, A. J., Clark, J. M., & He, L. (2017). Effectiveness of Commercial and Homemade Washing Agents in Removing Pesticide Residues on and in Apples. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 65(44), 9744–9752.

Removal of pesticide residues from fresh produce is important to reduce pesticide exposure to humans. This study investigated the effectiveness of commercial and homemade washing agents in the removal of surface and internalized pesticide residues from apples. Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) mapping and liquid chromatography tandem-mass spectrometry (LC MS/MS) methods were used to determine the effectiveness of different washing agents in removing pesticide residues. Surface pesticide residues were most effectively removed by sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) solution when compared with either tap water or bleach. Thiabendazole, a systemic pesticide, penetrated four-fold deeper into the apple peel than did phosmet, a non-systemic pesticide, which led to more thiabendazole residues inside the apples, which could not be washed away using the baking soda washing solution. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that separated the surface and penetrated pesticides in response to washing. It is also the first study that correlated the depth of pesticide penetration and the efficacy of washing. Understanding the effectiveness of various washing procedures in the removal of pesticides on and in apples will allow us to develop better strategies to minimize pesticide exposure from fresh produce. The technique Dr. He developed for detecting pesticide and its penetration has led to an intellectual property disclosure and some industry projects to study pesticides in their formulations and their behaviors. Recently, Dr. He’s lab also helped a company to validate a washing formulation that is based on this study using baking soda. The outcome of this study helps industries to develop more cost-effective and safer pesticide formulations, and cost-effective formulation to remove pesticide residue from food. 

Read more about Lili He.

Yeonhwa Park

Professor, Francis Chair and Graduate Program Director, Department of Food Science

Sun, Q., Xiao, X., Kim, Y., Kim, D., Yoon, K. S., Clark, J. M., & Park, Y. (2016). Imidacloprid Promotes High Fat Diet-Induced Adiposity and Insulin Resistance in Male C57BL/6J Mice. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 64(49), 9293–9306.

Application of insecticides contributed to significant increases in agricultural productivity in the 20th century, helping to meet the challenge of feeding the world’s expanding population. However, insecticides are one of the major environmental contaminants, and the extensive use of insecticides has caused wide public health concerns. Simultaneously, emerging evidence suggests that persistent organic pollutants, including insecticides, are linked to the development of obesity and diabetes. Among newly developed insecticides, imidacloprid, in particular, is commonly used to control ectoparasites (i.e. ticks) by direct application to pets, along with agricultural applications. Because of a potential link to the decline of the bee population, usage of imidacloprid in Europe has been banned. This study reports significant off-target effects of imidacloprid and further challenges to determine the synergistic effects of insecticides and other known factors of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The doses used in the study are low enough to be considered safe in current industrial and regulatory practices. The results of this study may help us understand the current obesity epidemic and will be foundational in developing potential preventive and/or treatment strategy for obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the future. 

Read more about Yeonhwa Park.

Leonid Pobezinsky

Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences

Wells, A. C., Daniels, K. A., Angelou, C. C., Fagerberg, E., Burnside, A. S., Markstein, M., Alfandari, D., Welsh, R. M., Pobezinskaya, E. L., and Pobezinsky, L. A. (2017). Modulation of let-7 miRNAs controls the differentiation of effector CD8 T cells. eLife, 6.

The immune system is the only known natural mechanism that destroys infected or cancerous cells in an organism. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes, also called T-killer cells, are the most potent killer cells among all of the cells involved in the immune response to viruses and tumors. Unfortunately, under pathological conditions such as chronic viral infections or cancer, the function of T-killer cells is often compromised. When T-killer cells become inactive, it is very difficult to treat these diseases. The Pobezinsky lab is working to understand how to generate and maintain fully functional T-killer cells under pathological conditions.

This study reports the discovery of a molecular switch that turns T-killer cells on or off. The switch is based on certain RNA molecules called microRNA that regulate gene expression. The authors discovered that reducing the expression of a particular microRNA called let-7 results in enhanced T-killer cell function, and conversely, increasing the let-7 expression results in diminished T-killer cell function. Understanding this relationship opens up the possibility for designing therapies that decrease levels of let-7 in order to improve T-killer cell performance in responses to viruses and tumors. Dr. Pobezinsky recently received a large industry grant to directly explore these translational possibilities.

Read more about Leonid Pobezinsky.

Vincent Rotello

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Mout, R., Ray, M., Yesilbag Tonga, G., Lee, Y.-W., Tay, T., Sasaki, K., & Rotello, V. M. (2017). Direct Cytosolic Delivery of CRISPR/Cas9-Ribonucleoprotein for Efficient Gene Editing. ACS Nano, 11(3), 2452–2458.

The recently developed gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 is a powerful technology with enormous potential to treat genetic diseases. CRISPR has two components: a scissor-like protein Cas9, and a RNA molecule called sgRNA that guides Cas9 protein to a target gene. Once the Cas9-sgRNA pair gets to the destination gene in the nucleus, it can find and correct the mistakes in the gene with the help of host cell repair machinery. Currently, CRISPR/Cas9 therapy is carried out by delivering genes to the host cells, so that the cells can make their own Cas9 and sgRNA. However, this strategy creates major problems of unwanted gene editing and immune responses because the CRISPR genes remain in the host cells after they are delivered.

This study demonstrates a highly efficient alternative nanomaterial-based strategy that directly delivers a pre-fabricated Cas9:sgRNA complex to the cells. It overcomes the challenges of crossing the cell membrane and arriving at the cell nucleus without being trapped in intracellular structures along the way. The Cas9:sgRNA complex was delivered to >90% of cells using a wide range of cell types. The strategy therefore provides a way to employ the powerful gene editing capabilities of the CRISPR system without suffering from its usual limitations. The research has been patented, and two industrial partnerships have been generated to apply our technology for therapeutic and agricultural use. Additionally, the technology has featured in multiple proposals to funding agencies.

Read more about Vincent Rotello.

M. Sloan Siegrist

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology

García-Heredia, A., Pohane, A. A., Melzer, E. S., Carr, C. R., Fiolek, T. J., Rundell, S. R., … Siegrist, M. S. (2018). Peptidoglycan precursor synthesis along the sidewall of pole-growing mycobacteria. eLife, 7.

Because it is essential for viability and composed of molecules that are not present in eukaryotic cells, the bacterial cell wall has been a fruitful target of antibiotics. We co-developed a metabolic labeling strategy that has been widely adopted by microbiologists to illuminate cell wall peptidoglycan, a matrix of sugars and non-proteinaceous amino acids. However, while we knew what the probes labeled, we did not understand how they got to their destination. This was a significant limitation, as the uptake pathway of a probe determines whether it is specific for newly-made or newly-remodeled material, categories of peptidoglycan that are inhibited by different classes of antibiotics. In our paper, we determined the metabolic fates of several probes and used this information to pinpoint the location of peptidoglycan assembly and remodeling with precision. This work is an essential first step toward realizing the probes’ industrial applications. For example, well-defined reagents simplify downstream deconvolution of hits from high-throughput cell wall inhibitor screening. As we can attach different cargo to our probes, we also envision using them to deliver antibacterials. The route(s) by which these molecules are likely to access the bacteria is a critical design consideration.

Read more about M. Sloan Siegrist.

Richard Vachet

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Borotto, N. B., Zhou, Y., Hollingsworth, S. R., Hale, J. E., Graban, E. M., Vaughan, R. C., & Vachet, R. W. (2015). Investigating Therapeutic Protein Structure with Diethylpyrocarbonate Labeling and Mass Spectrometry. Analytical Chemistry, 87(20), 10627–10634.

Protein therapeutics are the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry. Unlike traditional small‐molecule drugs, protein-based drugs must maintain not only their covalent structure (i.e. bonding of atoms in the molecule) but also their proper three‐dimensional (3D) structure. Changes in a protein therapeutic's 3D structure can lead to an inactive drug or worse, an unwanted immune response. Consequently, there is a big push in the pharmaceutical industry to find fast, reliable, and convenient methods to assess protein 3D structure.

While there are excellent traditional biochemical tools that can assess protein structure, they are either too slow to be routinely useful (e.g. NMR, X‐ray crystallography) or they are not sensitive enough to identify structural changes that influence the function of a protein therapeutic (e.g. circular dichroism (CD), fluorescence). Considering this gap in technology, we developed an approach based on chemical labeling and mass spectrometry (MS) that is more rapid and efficient than techniques like NMR and X‐ray crystallography and provides much more structural resolution than techniques such as CD and fluorescence.

The technique described in this paper is the subject of a pending patent, and a company called QuarryBio has recently licensed this technology. We are collaborating with QuarryBio on ways to further extend this method to make it more readily available for pharmaceutical companies to use.

Read more about Richard Vachet.

2020 Industry Judges

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Stefan K. Baier, PhD

Head for Food Science, Motif FoodWorks

Dr. Stefan K. Baier is the Head for Food Science at Motif FoodWorks based in Boston, MA and an Adjunct Associate Professor with the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Dr. Baier received a degree in Food Engineering (Dipl.-Ing.) from the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn, Germany, and a Ph.D. in Food Colloids and Biopolymers from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA under Professor Julian McClements. Prior to joining Motif FoodWorks, Dr. Baier served as an Associate Fellow with PepsiCo and a was a Senior Scientist at Global Food Research with Cargill, Inc.. Dr. Baier’s research interests are in the area of food oral processing with an emphasis on rheology and tribology. He and his research team leverage soft matter and colloidal physics coupled with engineering principles to develop rational design criteria for the next generation low fat, sodium and sugar foods and beverages based on insights from food oral processing.  Dr. Baier sits on the editorial board for the Journal of Texture Studies and BioTribology. He is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry. He initiated PepsiCo’s participation in the EIT-Food, a major EU initiative for innovation in the food industry and has several industrial grants across the globe, including an ARC Linkage and AiF grant to develop food oral processing as a scientific discipline. Dr. Baier is the recipient of the 2015 Uniquest Partners in Research Excellence Awards. He has several key impact publications and given several Invited keynote presentation on the role of rheology and tribology in oral processing, e.g. more recently at Neutrons & Foods, International Conference on BioTribology (ICoBT) and FDA/PQRI conference.

Richard J. Gregory, PhD

Fellow , American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Dr. Gregory received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1986, followed by post-doctoral research in cancer genetics at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury MA. In 1989 he joined Genzyme Corporation, where he was responsible for discovery projects in the molecular biology department. In 1990, his group at Genzyme was the first to express the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein and to determine the molecular defect caused by the most common mutation of CFTR. From 1993 to 1995 he was Director of Molecular Biology at Canji, Inc. in San Diego, where he led research and development of therapeutics based upon tumor suppressor genes. Richard returned to Genzyme in 1995 as Vice President for Gene Therapy. Efforts under Dr. Gregory’s direction during this period included programs in cancer immunotherapy, gene therapies for genetic diseases and cardiovascular gene therapy. In 2001 Richard became Senior Vice President and Head of Research for Genzyme Corporation where he was responsible for early R&D, from discovery to development, in all therapeutic areas at Genzyme. In 2011 Richard was appointed Head of the Sanofi Genzyme R&D Center, overseeing R&D in rare diseases, multiple sclerosis, immune disorders and tissue protection/regenerative medicine. In January of 2015 Dr. Gregory joined ImmunoGen, where he was responsible for research leading to new antibody based therapeutics to address the unmet needs of patients with cancer. Since September of 2019 Richard has been an independent consultant. He is the co-author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications and 23 issued U.S. patents in the area of biotechnology. Richard is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Dennis Guberski

President, Biomere

Mr. Dennis Guberski, a geneticist trained at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, spent more than 20 years (1977-1997) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center both as a researcher and as an administrator in the Department of Pathology. During this time, he extensively studied the etiology of Type 1 diabetes and developed several spontaneous animal models that are still in widespread use today. He was the first to report on the perturbation of autoimmune disease by a parvovirus, which caused disease impacting both the pancreas and thyroid. In 1996, he founded, Biomere, a preclinical contract research organization that employs 85 FTE’s. At Biomere, Mr. Guberski served as PI on numerous NIH grants and contracts including most recently, the $4.9MM Type 1 diabetes Preclinical Testing Program in support of the governments Trial Net. His longstanding contribution to science includes key papers elucidating the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes, mapping susceptibility genes for type 1 diabetes/rheumatoid arthritis and developing novel models for environmental initiation of autoimmunity.

David J. Mazzo, PhD

President and Chief Executive Officer, Caladrius Biosciences

Dr. Mazzo is the President and CEO of Caladrius Biosciences, Inc., a late-stage therapeutics development biopharmaceutical company pioneering advancements of cell therapies for select cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. The Company’s primary technology platform is based on the use of CD34+/CXCR4+ cells for ischemic repair in a variety of indications including critical limb ischemia, coronary microvascular disfunction and no-option refractory disabling angina (NORDA). Dr. Mazzo is a pharmaceutical executive and strategic leader with broad experience in both large and small companies gained from working in a variety of multi-cultural and multi-lingual environments in the USA, Canada, Europe and Asia. He is recognized for his exceptional strategic, scientific and regulatory expertise, upon which he has amassed a track record of >35 years of successful global product development, registration and launch. 

Dr. Mazzo earned his Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry as well as an M.S. in Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). He also holds dual degrees [B.S. in Chemistry and B.A. in Honors (Interdisciplinary Humanities)] from Villanova University. He complemented his American education as a Research Fellow at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

James McColgan

Director of Site Technical Services, Pfizer Global Manufacturing

Mr. James McColgan is currently Director of the Site Technical Services group at the Andover Pfizer Global Supply (PGS) biological manufacturing facility in Andover, MA. The Andover site is the primary large scale biological production facility within the Pfizer Biotech network. Cell culture scale ranges from 2,500-L through 12,500-L across 4 independent production lines. It is a fully cGMP approved multi-product site producing both commercial and clinical stage recombinant proteins and vaccine components.  

Mr. McColgan has over 25 years of experience in the development of cell lines and process development and scale up of both bacterial and mammalian recombinant processes, from bench scale to cGMP productions scale in positions of increasing responsibilities. The Site Technical Services group is responsible for providing technical support and troubleshooting across a number of different disciplines in support of the site goals of being the premier launch site for new biologics and a technical leader in the area biologic manufacture. He started his career at Genetics Institute in the Microbial Fermentation group where he was responsible for development of recombinant E. coli based processes. He then progressed to additional roles in development of recombinant cell lines and development of mammalian based processes as well as development of rapid microbiology assays. Prior to his current role in the Site Technical Services group, Mr. McColgan led the Andover non-GMP Pilot Lab. Mr. McColgan received both a BS and MS microbiology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Vic Myer, PhD

Industry Leader, Biomedicine

Dr. Vic Myer was most recently the Chief Technology Officer at Editas Medicine and was responsible for delivering enabling technologies to bring genomic medicines to the clinic. Prior to joining, Dr. Myer served as executive director and Cambridge site head for the developmental and molecular pathways department at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research Incorporated (NIBR), where he also served as a research investigator, led the high-throughput biology team and oversaw the target discovery technologies platform. He was also a founding scientist and group leader at Akceli, Inc., a venture-backed systems-biology company, served as senior scientist for Millennium Pharmaceuticals and held various roles at Corning, Inc. Dr. Myer received his BS in biology and biochemistry from Cornell University and his PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University.

Chuck Sherwood, PhD

Founder and Former CEO, Anika Therapeutics

Dr. Charles H. Sherwood was the Chief Executive Officer of Anika Therapeutics from 2002-2018. From 2002 through July 2017, he also held the title of President. Dr. Sherwood joined Anika in 1998 with extensive experience in research, engineering, manufacturing, quality assurance, regulatory affairs and business management. He first served at Anika in the position of Vice President of Research, Development and Engineering. Prior to joining Anika, he was a senior director with Chiron Vision, responsible for medical product development and commercialization. 

From 1982 to 1995, Dr. Sherwood was with IOLAB Corporation, a division of Johnson & Johnson, where he led the Research and Product Development organization. Earlier, he held various technical and management positions with Hughes Aircraft Company and Lord Corporation. He was also on the faculty of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Dr. Sherwood holds a BS in chemical engineering from Cornell University, an MA and a PhD in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a certificate in management from Claremont Graduate School.