KU News 9/29: KU researchers developing quick-turnaround COVID-19 test

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Today’s News from the University of Kansas

 

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KU researchers developing quick-turnaround COVID-19 test

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas researcher is leading an effort to develop a COVID-19 test that can be used at home. Foundation Distinguished Professor Steven Soper and graduate students in bioengineering and chemistry are repurposing “lab on a chip” technology he had previously developed to give doctors simple tools to more easily and quickly diagnose conditions ranging from stroke to colon cancer.

 

KPR’s fall membership drive breaks record, raising over $315K

LAWRENCE – Kansas Public Radio received overwhelming support from listeners during its fall membership drive, which raised more than $315,000, making it the most successful fall drive in the station’s history. In addition to listener pledges, KPR received $59,433 in challenge grants, which are provided by an individual, company or foundation that challenges listeners to match their gift of a specific amount within a certain time frame.

 

Researchers travel the ‘Silk Road’ through cyberspace

LAWRENCE – Although original plans for an art symposium were canceled in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a University of Kansas art history researcher was able to double the number of works on display for an online exhibition, “Interweaving Cultures Along the Silk Road(s),” as she would have been able to display at the Spencer Museum of Art. The exhibition remains online through the end of the year.

 

Five KU students named finalists for 30th annual Ex.C.E.L. Awards

LAWRENCE — Five seniors have been selected as finalists for the 30th annual Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership Awards at the University of Kansas. Two winners will be announced at the conclusion of Homecoming week, which culminates in the KU-Oklahoma State football game Oct. 3 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The finalists include Kansas students from Kansas City, Overland Park and Prairie Village.

Full stories below.

 

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Contact: Cody Howard, School of Engineering, 785-864-2936, [email protected], @kuengineering

KU researchers developing quick-turnaround COVID-19 test

 

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor is leading an effort to develop a quick-turnaround COVID-19 test that can be used at home.

 

“Eventually, our test will go into a home — like an early pregnancy test at home,” said Steven Soper, a Foundation Distinguished Professor with appointments in both the School of Engineering and Department of Chemistry. “Anyone could do it.”

 

Soper’s team, which includes a half-dozen graduate students in bioengineering and chemistry, is repurposing “lab on a chip” technology he had previously developed to give doctors simple tools to more easily and quickly diagnose conditions ranging from stroke to colon cancer. The goal is to get the new test to market “sooner than later, of course.”

 

“We’re well-versed in this,” he said.

 

The test uses a small plastic chip — about 38 by 42 millimeters — that contains 1.5 million tiny pillars, just 10 microns wide and 50 microns tall. Each pillar contains a piece of ribonucleic acid that “recognizes” a protein found in the COVID-19 virus particle.

 

“When we flow saliva through this forest of pillars that have on the chip surfaces, this DNA molecule will look to bind to the virus particle,” Soper said. The chip will then be exposed to blue light, which will release the RNA-virus bound particles from the pillars and funnel them through a hole just 200 nanometers wide — creating an electrical signal that lets users see if they have the virus.

 

That sounds complicated. For the user, though, taking the test will be very simple.

 

“You take a saliva sample, you put it in the chip, and the chip does the processing,” Soper said. The whole process, including results, should take around 15 minutes. Current tests — including one used by KU — involve multiple steps, require a trained operator to implement the test and need an hour or two before results are available.

 

Soper’s team has been working on the project since early June after researchers were allowed to return to their on-campus labs following KU’s shutdown in March. Funding for the effort comes from the National Institutes of Health. The group includes three graduate students in bioengineering and three graduate students in chemistry.

 

“I think most students want to contribute to society in terms of research. If we can actually find something that would help a lot of people, that would mean a lot to us,” said Swarnagowri Vaidyanathan, a doctoral student in bioengineering who is working on the project.

 

Other graduate student team members include Katie Childers and Zheng Zhao, both in bioengineering, as well as chemistry students Uditha Athapattu, Sachindra Gamage and Thilanga Nandana. Maggie Witek, associate research professor of chemistry, and Lulu Zhang, a postdoctoral chemistry student, are also working on the project.

 

“They basically stopped everything they were doing on their dissertation work to get this done,” Soper said. “Hats off to the graduate students. They’re working like crazy to get this done.”

 

The next step in the process is to conduct clinical trials of the test between now and the end of the year in order to obtain approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for widespread use. Once that happens, Soper said, “It’s a matter of manufacturing and getting it out to the market.”

 

Soper earned his doctorate in bioanalytical chemistry from KU in 1989 and returned to the university as a faculty member in 2016. He brought along his company, BioFluidica, which previously created new products to help doctors test for various types of cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer.

 

The new test, he said, will be adaptable for other viruses that come along in the future — and also to detect illnesses from cancer and radiation poisoning. “We can reprogram the chip so it can be used for other applications,” he said. “There’s many applications for our test, not just COVID-19.”

 

Soper said the University of Kansas is well-positioned for this kind of effort. A nanofabrication facility opened in Gray-Little Hall a year ago, which enables researchers to create the advanced tools used in the COVID-19 test.

 

“That’s provided the infrastructure, and that was a big investment by the university,” Soper said. “KU has the resources that we need to move this whole thing forward.”

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Contact: Feloniz Lovato-Winston, Kansas Public Radio, 785-864-5968, [email protected], @KPRInfo

KPR’s fall membership drive breaks record, raising over $315K

 

LAWRENCE – Kansas Public Radio received overwhelming support from listeners during its fall membership drive, which raised more than $315,000, making it the most successful fall drive in the station’s history.

 

In addition to listener pledges, KPR received $59,433 in challenge grants, which are provided by an individual, company or foundation that challenges listeners to match their gift of a specific amount within a certain time frame.

 

This fall, many KPR listeners who gave at the $120/year and above level received a KPR-branded face mask as a thank-you gift. The station also partnered with Hy-Vee to provide a high-need item to the Lawrence Humane Society for every pledge received on “Fursday” (Thursday, Sept. 17). On Sept. 14, KPR encouraged listeners to help meet a $10,000 challenge by renewing or upgrading their sustaining membership. By midnight that night, the station had met its goal of 150 new or upgrading sustainers and unlocked the generous challenge.

 

Due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this drive was almost entirely remote, with most hosts and staff working from home to make fundraising appeals on the air, take pledge calls and take care of the administrative tasks associated with the drive.

 

All donations during membership drives directly support KPR’s local and national programming. KPR lost more than $50,000 in corporate sponsorship income due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and must rely on individual support more than ever.

 

“We are so grateful to the many listeners who contributed to the station last week,” said KPR Executive Director Dan Skinner. “Member support has helped KPR overcome the financial challenges we’ve faced over the past several months and has allowed us to continue to provide the same level of programming to our listeners, who depend on us now more than ever.”

 

Although the drive has concluded, listeners can still donate online at kansaspublicradio.org.

 

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Contact:  Rick Hellman, KU News Service, 785-864-8852, [email protected]@RickHellman

Researchers travel the ‘Silk Road’ through cyberspace

 

LAWRENCE – The good news is that Sherry Fowler, University of Kansas professor of the history of art, has included twice as many works in a new online exhibition, “Interweaving Cultures Along the Silk Road(s),” as she would have been able to display at the Spencer Museum of Art last March.

 

And more than 200 people from around the globe took part each day of the Zoom version of the accompanying academic symposium, “Visual and Material Culture of the Silk Road(s),” earlier this month — far more than planners were expecting in person as they watched the COVID-19 pandemic close down the campus right before their originally scheduled event. The symposium was co-hosted by KU’s Center for East Asian Studies and the Kress Foundation Department of Art History.

 

Together the online events constitute a broad-ranging scholarly look at visual and material culture made in the spirit of the global exchanges that took place along what are described in the exhibition’s introduction as the “trade routes that flourished between Europe and Asia from the second century BCE to the mid-15th century.” The exhibition will remain online through year’s end.

 

“Interweaving Cultures” features 41 high-resolution images of textiles, sculptures, paintings and other works from the Spencer’s extensive collection of Silk Road-related artifacts, curated by Fowler. Fowler called it the culmination of a yearslong series of academic collaborations she began with Maki Kaneko, associate professor of the history of art, involving students and museums across the state, including at Kansas State and Washburn universities.

 

Fowler said the scope of the exhibition was already vast conceptually, including artworks from Africa and the Middle East along with East Asia and going up in time to the present day, so she decided to organize the works into four categories — Textiles, Buddhism, Orientalism and Amalgamations — while recognizing that many overlap.

 

Fowler said she realized while working over the summer with Kate Meyer, Spencer Museum curator, that not only was there no limit on the size or number of works they could present online, there were none of the normal risks of displaying fragile or light-sensitive works.

 

“One of the things about the show is its emphasis on textiles,” Fowler said. “Silk is the iconic good that travels along the Silk Road and that it takes its name from. We wanted to have a good selection of textiles, but they’re really fragile, and I’m always very aware of the care that goes into preventing too much light exposure and damage when bringing them out. So in this way, the online format was very freeing.”

 

Textiles and Buddhism are straightforward enough as topics. The section on “Orientalism” takes on the notion, addressed by Edward Said in a 1978 book by that name. Fowler summarized it as Asia and the Middle East interpreted by “the Western gaze.” A “wonderful” 19th-century Dutch bowl decorated with an imaginary scene of China fits into this exhibition category, Fowler said.

 

“Amalgamations” is, in turn, a response to that, Fowler said, consisting mainly of Asian artists’ depictions of other Asian people, places and things. A 1931 woodblock print of the Taj Mahal by a Japanese artist is included in this section.

 

As the summer wore on and it became clear KU and the Spencer would not open as normal in the fall, Fowler made plans to move the symposium and exhibition online. She had a lot of help, crediting the “heroic efforts” of Amanda Snider, CEAS assistant director, for transitioning the symposium to a Zoom webinar and managing its technology.

 

“I structured the symposium to have four panels of different themes with chairs who were responsible for three speakers each,” Fowler said. “When the chairs asked their group members, ‘Would you be willing to do this on Zoom?,’ everybody said yes.”

 

Though there were some technical glitches during the presentations, Fowler said, she thought the seminar came off well and turned into a global event.

 

Meyer and Ryan Waggoner, museum director of creative services, as well as several others were instrumental in making the transition, she said.

 

“We had the event all set up so nicely in the Spencer building,” Fowler said. “We were going to have lunch in the reception room, and then the attendees could all go in to the gallery and look at the art, and they would have interacted with the students and it would have been a nice social time, which is completely missing in an online format.”

 

Even so, she said, “Interweaving Cultures” provides “an exciting opportunity for a new audience to see the richness of the Spencer collection far beyond its walls.”

 

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Don’t miss new episodes of “When Experts Attack!,”

a KU News Service podcast hosted by Kansas Public Radio.

 

https://kansaspublicradio.org/when-experts-attack

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Contact: Jennifer Sanner, KU Alumni Association, 785-864-9782, [email protected]@KUAlumni

Five KU students named finalists for 30th annual Ex.C.E.L. Awards

 

LAWRENCE — Five seniors have been selected as finalists for the 30th annual Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership Awards at the University of Kansas. Two winners will be announced at the conclusion of Homecoming week, which culminates in the KU-Oklahoma State football game Oct. 3 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

 

The Ex.C.E.L. Award provides an annual $250 scholarship to two students. Nominees were selected on the basis of leadership, effective communication skills, involvement at KU and in the Lawrence community, academic scholarship and ability to work with a variety of students and organizations. The selection committee included representatives from Student Union Activities, the Board of Class Officers, the Student Involvement & Leadership Center and the Homecoming Steering Committee.

 

The award was first given in 1991 to recognize two students for achievement. Names of winners are listed on a plaque on the fifth level of the Kansas Union. To be eligible, applicants must be full-time undergraduate students with an overall grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. Each finalist completed an application and participated in an interview. The finalists and their academic majors are listed below, along with highlights of their campus achievements.

 

Jaya Chakka, a Collinsville, Oklahoma, senior in behavioral neuroscience and molecular, cellular & developmental biology, is a University Honors Scholar and participates in the University Honors Program. She has been a DJ at KJHK since her freshman year, serving as music director in 2019 before becoming station manager in summer 2020. She was an undergraduate research assistant in the Department of Psychology during her junior year and currently works as a research assistant at the Kansas Center for Autism Research & Training at KU. She worked for KU Info and reported on arts and culture for the University Daily Kansan. As a volunteer, she provided musical entertainment at the Hillside Village of De Soto senior community.

 

Adrian Cisneros, a Kansas City, Kansas, senior in sociology and women, gender & sexuality studies with a minor in social justice and leadership studies, is an off-campus student senator and vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion. They served as vice president of programs for the Student Alumni Leadership Board and vice president of development and fine arts coordinator for Student Union Activities. They helped coordinate and lead orientation for two years for the Office of First-Year Experience and International Support Services. In addition, they served as an information specialist for KU Info and coordinated programs for the Association of University Residence Halls. They also worked as a desk assistant for KU Student Housing and as a receptionist at the Adams Alumni Center.

 

Deegan Poores, a Prairie Village senior in political science and a first-year law student through the Legal Education Accelerated Degree Program, is a lifelong musician. He became a DJ at KJHK during his freshman year and led the staff as programming director from 2019 to 2020, organizing several events for the KU and Lawrence communities. He currently serves as one of the radio station’s music directors. He became a Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) observer for the university in 2018.

 

Elaine Pope, an Overland Park senior in English and pre-medicine, participates in the University Honors Program. She is a member of Chi Omega sorority, where she served as special events coordinator and currently directs programming as a member of the executive board. She is director of Rock Chalk Revue and founder of FOCUS Bible Study. She participated in a study abroad program in England and Scotland in 2019 and was a member of the Business Leadership Program for two years. She traveled with the Jayhawk Health Initiative Medical Brigade to Panama in 2019 and participated in a FOCUS mission trip to Peru in 2020. She was a certified nurse aide at Mid-America Nursing & Allied-Health Institute in Overland Park, and she volunteered at the Hope Family Care Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Adrian Romero, a Tegucigalpa, Honduras, senior in chemical engineering with an environmental emphasis, is vice president of student outreach for the Engineering Student Council and a regional student representative for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He participates in the University Honors Program and has been a resident assistant for KU Student Housing since 2018. He is an undergraduate research assistant in water sustainability and resource recovery and helps perform COVID-19 testing in wastewater samples in Douglas and Johnson counties. He was an engineering student senator and a student assistant in the Office of International Admissions. He interned in the water technology group at Black & Veatch in summer 2020 and participated in a summer research project at West Virginia University in 2019. He is an IHAWKe Exceptional Scholar and was named a Student Housing Staff Member of the Year in 2019.

 

The theme for KU’s 108th Homecoming is “Rock Chalk Around the World.” The Alumni Association and its Student Alumni Network oversee this year’s event, which is sponsored by the KU Bookstore and Truity Credit Union and supported by Crown Toyota, Volkswagen. A complete schedule of Homecoming week activities can be found at kualumni.org/homecoming.

 

 

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