Dr. Jessica Kramer, Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor, has been awarded the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award for 2019, which supports “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

Dr. Jessica Kramer in a University of Utah Lab

We all hate mucus when we get a cold or flu. But a major component of mucus called mucins are essential to life. Mucus interfaces our tissues with the outside world, and every exposed wet surface in the body, as well as our internal organs, are covered with mucins.

But mucus is tricky to study because our cells make many different forms of mucins depending on the tissue and whether the tissue is healthy or diseased. These different forms make reproducible studies challenging. There is also a lack of sufficient quantity of human samples of each form for use in research. Consequently, most scientists use mucus obtained from farm animals.

Kramer’s grant involves developing a cell-free method to make specific forms of mucins. She will study how individual mucin proteins interact with salts, fats, other proteins, and DNA to collectively form mucus. They will try to pinpoint the differences between mucus from different tissues and how bacteria, drugs, and nutrients interact with it. Eventually, she wants to create authentic models of human mucosal tissues to study nutrient absorption, fertilization, immunity and to develop new treatments for cystic fibrosis and cancer.

“I’m thrilled the importance of this project was recognized by the NSF and that my students will be supported,” Kramer said. “As a new professor, continuing the tradition of top-quality research at the U is very important to me, and this is an exciting leap in that direction.”

Kramer received a bachelors from the University of Utah and a master’s and doctorate from UCLA, all in chemistry. She joined the U in 2017.

For more information on the additional University of Utah College of Engineering faculty members who were recipients of the NSF CAREER Award for 2019, please click here.