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Dunn Receives UT System Seed Grant to Develop New Microscope

headshot of Andrew Dunn

Andrew Dunn, professor and interim chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the recipient of a $100,000 seed grant through the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute.

The UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute was created by the Board of Regents in 2014 to facilitate team approaches to brain research and leverage the broad scientific expertise and resources available throughout the UT System.

With the funding, Dunn plans to design a new microscope that can better show the individual dendritic spines in brain tissue. Dendritic spines play a key role in learning and memory, and a better understanding of their basic neurobiology could lead to better treatment for cognitive disorders like ADHD, autism, and Fragile X syndrome.

This project is a new collaboration between Dr. Dunn and Dr. Kristen Harris, professor of neuroscience. Harris and her team have expertise in the neurobiology of learning and memory, and they have pioneered the use of electron microscopy for studying the ultrastructure of dendritic spines. Although electron microscopy has very high spatial resolution, it cannot be used to visualize dynamic processes in spines. The new optical microscopy technique that Dunn's lab will develop will fill this gap by enabling continuous imaging of individual dendritic spines with very high spatial resolution.

"This seed grant will allow us to establish a new collaboration between two labs with expertise in biomedical engineering and neuroscience," Dunn said. "It will also allow us to demonstrate the proof of concept of this new imaging technique and obtain preliminary results for future grant proposals."

Dunn, who holds the Donald J. Douglass Centennial Professorship of Engineering, is one of 45 seed grant recipients selected from among 158 proposals. Dunn is also the director of UT Austin's Center for Emerging Imaging Technologies, a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the recipient of early career awards from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Whitaker Foundation.