Pilot Grants

To promote translational research, the BUnano Center established an annual Pilot Grant program. The calls for proposals focus on specific topics, ranging from cancer research to COVID diagnostics. Investigators are expected to utilize the funds to support the research that will serve as preliminary data for one or more applications to multi-investigator proposals of the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and/or Department of Defense. A mandatory condition for the award is crossdisciplinary collaborations among investigators, from different departments.
BUnano Pilot Grants ROI

From 2014 to 2022, BUnano has awarded 35 pilot grants to interdisciplinary collaborative teams of BUnano faculty, including nine junior faculty members and 28 senior faculty members. A total of $521,000 in seed grants have enabled unique collaborations, linking engineers, scientists, and clinicians working towards finding solutions to societal needs. As of 2022, BUnano’s support of faculty has generated over $33M in extramural funding, of which $6,178,135 was in FY 2022 alone .The first call for proposals in 2014 focused on translational nanotechnologies with applications in the diagnosis and therapy of cancer. The funded proposals became the foci for several NIH proposals (U01 and/or U54) in response to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer program. While none of the BU teams that year secured NCI funding, the project instigated several successful collaborations. Subsequent efforts resulted in over a dozen published manuscripts, with resubmitted grants yielding four successful NIH R01/R21 funded projects totaling over $10M.

Seed funding for junior faculty-led teams has been instrumental in supporting the collection of preliminary data to prepare for larger proposals. For example, in 2016 Dr. John Ngo received a $5,000 BUnano seed funding for research focused on the development of optically controllable materials for modulating mammalian cell signaling. The project resulted in a light-inducible platform for regulating Notch receptor activation in space and time and generated preliminary data for a subsequent $1,650,000 NIH R01 award with co-PI Dr. Christopher Chen in 2018. Similarly, the junior faculty team of Dr. Michelle Sander (ECE) and Dr. Keith Brown (ME) used their $19,000 seed funding for the project “Observing Water Transport in Patterned Hydrogels” to generate preliminary data for successful grant submissions to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Defense (DoD) totaling $897,000 over the next two years. A “Biocompatible Plasmonic Nanostructures for Noninvasive Brain Imaging” pilot project was proposed by Dr. Luca Dal Negro (ECE) and Dr. Lee Goldstein (BUSM). With $20,000 in seed funding, they generated preliminary data for a successful NSF-funded award in the amount of $349,059.
In 2020, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus), the BUnano Center pilot grant call focused on innovative potential solutions with the use of nanomaterials in diagnostics, disease monitoring, therapeutics, and vaccine development. Two proposals were funded: a collaboration between Dr. Selim Unlu and Dr. John Connor of BU NEIDL received a $20,000 pilot grant and the one with Dr. John Ngo and Dr. Christopher Chen received a $40,000 pilot grant.
With the pilot grant funds, the team generated necessary preliminary data for $776,325 in NIH funding. The Unlu/Connor team’s proposal, the “Virus Counter for Rapid and Sensitive SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostics” project collected sufficient resources to build a prototype instrument. The interdisciplinary team succeeded in getting $345,868 in NIH RADx funding for COVID detection. iRiS Kinetics (a BU startup) has a prototype instrument and is building units for sale.

Faculty Awardees