Outsmart viruses, restore speech | U.C. Davis

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How creative and innovative are the recipients of the 2022 UC Davis Early Career Faculty Awards for Creativity and Innovation?

  • Chemical engineer and microbiologist Priya Shah unravels key aspects of arbovirus replication, aiming to thwart this major source of emerging diseases by identifying new therapeutic targets.
  • Neuroscientist and neuroengineer Sergey Stavisky is developing a brain-computer interface to restore speech to people who, due to conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or stroke, have lost the ability to speak.

Each of these adjunct professors received $40,000 for their projects, funded by an endowment created by anonymous donors. The prizes, awarded annually since 2016, are intended for non-tenured professors.

Priya Shah

Priya Shah

She joined UC Davis in 2017 after having been a postdoctoral fellow at UC San Francisco since 2012. She earned her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley and a Bachelor of Science, also in Chemical Engineering, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Selected as a Hellman Fellow in 2021, she serves dual roles in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the College of Biological Sciences, and is also affiliated with the Graduate Group in Chemical Engineering and at the BMCDB. (Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology) Graduate Group, as well as the Genome Center. His prize will go to his project entitled “Common characteristics of arbovirus-host protein interactions”.

“Viruses use physical interactions with host proteins to co-opt their replication functions,” she explained in her summary before focusing on arthropod-borne viruses, or arboviruses. Arthropods are invertebrates with exoskeletons, such as mosquitoes — an insect that she says is relevant to this discussion of arbovirus transmission.

“Compared to a virus like SARS-CoV-2, in which most transmission is now human-to-human, arboviruses have to cycle between two very different species,” she said, making reference to arthropods (as a vector) and humans.

“This begs the fundamental question, how do arboviruses physically hijack cellular processes to facilitate the same basic process of viral replication in two very different hosts?” Shah said she aims to answer the question by creatively applying proteomics to the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus. Proteomics allows researchers to examine all proteins in a sample simultaneously, including proteins that interact with each other. These protein interactions have the potential to be therapeutic targets, with the aim of interrupting viral transmission.

Sergei Stavisky

Sergei Stavisky

He joined the Department of Neurological Surgery at the medical school in 2021 and is co-director of the UC Davis Neuroprosthetics Laboratory. He was previously at Stanford University, earning his doctorate. in neuroscience, then as a postdoctoral fellow at the Neural Prosthetics Translational Laboratory, developing high-degree-of-freedom brain-machine interfaces to restore speech and complex arm movements. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Brown University

Her Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation will support her project titled “Restoration of Lost Speech Using an Intracortical Brain-Computer Interface”.

“People who lose the ability to speak due to conditions such as ALS and stroke have an urgent and unmet need to restore their ability to communicate,” Stavisky wrote in her summary.

He said the electronic device he is developing “measures brain activity with high accuracy as the user tries to speak, instantly ‘decodes’ that activity, and then delivers the person’s intended speech using ‘a computer “.

This “ambitious project”, he said, is currently possible thanks to converging advances in several disciplines. Additionally, the project will advance the emerging field of neuroengineering at UC Davis.

Stavisky is the scientific lead for a UC Davis Health clinical trial involving a brain-computer interface to restore speech to people who have lost — or are losing — the ability to speak. Read our story about the trial, including eligibility criteria to participate.


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