Cheng Named 1 of 10 Young Researchers to Receive Grant Through James D. Watson Investigator Program

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: October 23, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Richard P. Cheng, Ph.D., Jere Solo Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, has received a $200,000 grant through a new state program designed to recognize and support outstanding scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show potential for leadership and scientific discovery in the field of biotechnology.

Cheng, who joined the UB faculty this fall, is one of 10 young researchers sharing the $2 million in awards provided through the James D. Watson Investigator Program.

The Watson initiative is part of the $225 million Generating Employment through New York State Science (Gen*NY*sis) program that was created to maximize the potential of the world-class life sciences research being conducted at New York's public, not-for-profit and private academic research institutions.

The grants, which are being awarded over a two-year period, are being channeled through the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR),

The grants from the James D. Watson Investigator Program were awarded to scientists who are performing their research in the life sciences, biomedical sciences or in other life science-enabling disciplines, such as engineering, material science, chemistry, computer science, electronics, physics, bioinformatics, nanotechnologies and applications of microelectronics and micro-electromechanical devices.

Candidates for grants must have been awarded a doctoral degree and have less than five years' experience since receiving their doctorates. Only one award could be made per institution. A 10-member independent peer review panel comprised of life science and enabling-sciences experts reviewed the applications. The applicants funded were chosen based on the best science and the best likelihood of economic success, according to NYSTAR.

Russell W. Bessette, executive director of NYSTAR, said that these "groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind awards" will encourage early-career biotechnology scientists to stay and conduct their "critically important research" in New York State.

"In doing so, these scientists will be positioned to make the important advancements in biotechnology that will lead to the state's future economic growth," Bessette said.

Cheng received his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania/Dupont CR&D from 1998-2002.

His research focuses on designing sequence-specific, non-natural oiligomers - short polymers - with potential applications in biomedical (biomimetics, pharmaceuticals, bio-materials) and material sciences (supramolecular structures, nanotechnology.

Cheng is pursuing three research areas:

o Stabilizing protein folds with non-natural fluorinated amino acids for potential applications in industrial catalysis, nanofabrication, biomaterial and pharmaceutical sciences

o Development of bioactive non-natural oligomers as potential pharmaceutical agents

o Devising proteins with novel topologies using non-natural linkages for potential development of functional biomimetics and, ultimately, molecular machines.