Weldon School professor and researcher receives 2021 DARPA Young Faculty Award

Deva Chan, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering, has been awarded a 2021 Young Faculty Award (YFA) by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Chan’s collaborators on this Award include Douglas Brubaker, also faculty in Biomedical Engineering, and Timothy Lescun, a professor and large animal surgeon in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The two-year, $500,000 grant will support research probing the link between imbalances in the bacterial communities of the gut and production and breakdown of glycosaminoglycans in the joint – and how this interaction can be altered by prebiotics and exercise. Glycosaminoglycans are critical components of tissues in the human body, including those of the musculoskeletal system, and include molecules like hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate. Bacterial communities make up the microbiome residing in the gut and release byproducts, or metabolites, that can then alter various biological functions in the body. This metabolite-glycosaminoglycan interaction is hypothesized to be one of several linkages in the “gut-joint axis” that Chan and her collaborators will pursue in the coming years. Better understanding of these gut-joint interactions will help prevent and treat musculoskeletal injury in military personnel and civilians. A limited number of awardees may also receive the one-year Director’s Fellowship, which provides an additional $500,000 in funding following the two-year base period.

The DARPA YFA program identifies and engages rising stars in junior faculty positions, providing high-impact funding, mentoring and networking opportunities with industry and DoD contacts early in their careers. This program partners faculty with DoD programs so they may develop transformative new research ideas in the context of defense and national security challenges and needs. The long-term goal of the YFA program is to develop the next generation of academic scientists and engineers who will focus a significant portion of their careers on DoD and National Security issues.

Chan received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University and rejoined the Weldon School as faculty in August 2020, having moved her laboratory from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She leads research in orthopaedic biomechanics and mechanobiology, hyaluronan biology, and biomedical imaging to address problems in musculoskeletal injury, osteoarthritis, and noninvasive assessment of tissue function. Chan’s research is also currently funded by the National Science Foundation through a CAREER Award she received in 2020.