Pannier, panel brief Congress on importance of funding research

Pannier, panel brief Congress on importance of funding research

Calendar Icon Jul 29, 2015      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Angela Pannier, associate professor of biological systems engineering.
Angela Pannier, associate professor of biological systems engineering.
A quick trip to Washington in June didn’t provide Angela Pannier with much time for sight-seeing, but the associate professor of biological systems engineering said time spent was well worth the investment.

Pannier was one of six federally funded researchers from universities across the United States who were invited to be part of the Science Coalition’s Science2034 briefings on Capitol Hill. During those briefings – one each for the Senate and the House of Representatives – panel members discussed their research and the probable advancements that will be made in the next 20 years.

“This initiative allows us to talk about why we need sustained research funding and what is possible in 20 years,” Pannier said. “In most of these briefings, scientists will say ‘see what we have done.’ They didn’t want us to talk about what we have done, they wanted us to talk more about what we could do.”

Those possibilities included energy sources, finding life on other planets and medical advancements, such as Pannier’s work to make oral DNA vaccines that are easy to store, transport and administer. These types of vaccines could save millions of lives each year and help make responses to pandemics much more rapid.

In February, Pannier wrote a blog for the Science2034 web site about her multidisciplinary team – using expertise in food science, virology, mathematical models in telecommunications networking, biology of infectious diseases, working to develop vaccines that can be delivered to patients in pill form.

These pills would use replicas of genetic material from weakened or dead viruses to stimulate immune reactions. That genetic material would be embedded in a polymer found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and encapsulated in an outer shell made from a biodegradable corn protein. The shell could be taken orally and be protected as it moves through a person’s digestive system. Once in the intestines, the shell would dissolve and the inner core of the genetic material could be absorbed by the body, prompt an immune reaction and build up future immunity to the disease.

Collaborating with Pannier on this project are: Tadeusz Wysocki, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Amanda Ramer-Tait, assistant professor of food science and technology; and Deborah Brown, associate professor of biological sciences, all from UNL; and Paul Davis, assistant professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Along with the opportunity to meet members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation, Pannier said, the briefings were opportunities to show how valuable federally funded research is to the scientific community and the world.

“It was a really nice platform to let them really see how that money is spent and how it comes back into the economy and the community – it pays for graduate students, for university employees, for supplies,” Pannier said.

“Research is going to come up with all these great things, great discoveries, but we’re also going to create a workforce. It’s nice to be able to talk about that and have a platform.”

Pannier also said it was important to remember that funding helps the panelists and scientists at UNL and all over the country do “good work.” Making breakthroughs, including with her team’s work, isn’t as likely without support.

“I think (gene-based pill vaccines) will happen in the next 20 years. They’re already approved for veterinary use, but it’s not trivial to translate that from an animal to a human model. There’s a lot of things we need to work out,” Pannier said. “I believe that we will have that by 2034, and a lot of other huge discoveries, but only with sustained federal funding and investment in our research structure.”