Duncan Awarded Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award

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Dr. Gregg Duncan

Newly appointed Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) assistant professor Gregg Duncan was recently named one of 12 recipients of the 2017 Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) Career Award at the Scientific Interface.

This prestigious award is intended to foster the early career development of researchers in the U.S. or Canada who have transitioned or are transitioning from collegiate work in the physical, mathematical, computational sciences or engineering into postdoctoral work in the biological sciences. The BWF Career Award provides $500,000 over five years to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and their first faculty service. 

Duncan was recognized for his research on microscale airway surface liquid interactions and their role in lung health. 

One of the many ways the human body protects against infection by inhaled viruses and bacteria is through the generation and movement of mucus from the lung airways to the throat. Unfortunately, this movement – referred to as “MCC” – is impaired in individuals with lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cystic fibrosis. This impairment can lead to the deterioration of lung function and susceptibility to infections. 

Still, the reason for these disease symptoms is unclear, in part, due to limitations of current measurement techniques used to analyze MCC. 

Recognizing this, Duncan is working to develop new measurements that will resolve the primary components of the lung airways responsible for maintaining MCC on a microscopic scale. His hope is that this will provide a more accurate and complete picture of the process. 

“Mucus in the lung is designed to trap any disease-causing particulate where it is subsequently cleared by the motion of densely packed cilia on the airway surface,” Duncan explained. “Our research team will develop nanoparticle-based imaging tools to carefully interrogate how mucus and cilia interact in order to identify what disrupts mucus clearance in patients with these diseases.” 

If successful, Duncan believes this new sensitive method to examine lung health could lead to the development of better therapies for patients with these diseases, and resulting health benefits. 

“The support of the BWF will allow me to perform foundational studies forming the basis of my research program with the goal of providing a new perspective on pulmonary disease onset and progression,” he said. 

Duncan, who specializes in nanodiagnostics, nanotherapeutics, biological fluids and interfaces, and lung diseases, officially joined the Fischell Department of Bioengineering in summer 2017. He holds a Ph.D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Published July 28, 2017