Lydia Contreras Awarded the American Chemical Society’s Biotechnology Division Young Investigator Award

Head shot of Associate Professor Lydia Contreras

The American Chemical Society’s Biotechnology Division (ACS BIOT) has selected Lydia Contreras, associate professor and Laurence E. McMakin, Jr. Centennial Fellow in Chemical Engineering, for their 2020 Young Investigator Award.

The award recognizes an outstanding contributor, 40 years of age or younger, to the field of biochemical technology. Contreras studies the fundamental role that RNA regulation plays in cellular response as it relates to the fields of human health and disease, biotechnology, and environmental biology.

“We study the way living cells react to different conditions posed by the environment—like extreme nutrient starvation, radiation, air pollution or metal contamination,” said Contreras.

This award is in recognition for Contreras’ innovated approaches of combining biochemistry with machine learning techniques to enable quantitative, high-throughput methods that can directly probe inside of living cells.

“This analysis enables us to identify ways we can manipulate natural regulatory systems to engineer human cells to be more resilient to withstanding natural environmental or chemical stresses,” added Contreras. “At the same time, we can view these RNAs as early biomarkers, or biological signatures, of these stresses that could lead to diseases such as cancer.”

Young Investigator Award recipients are chosen by a distinguished panel of academic and industrial members of the field who review nominations and make their selection based on the originality and overall quality of work of the nominee and its significance to the advancement of the field of biochemical technology. A list of past winners can be found here.

ACS honors its members each year at the Spring ACS Meeting to be held March 22 – 26, 2020, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Contreras will give a presentation on her research.

In addition to this award, Contreras has recently been recognized by an election to The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, as a Cornell Distinguished Alumna, and as a Mellichamp Emergent Leader Lecturer. She has also received an NSF Career Award, HEI young investigator Award, DTRA Young Investigator Award and Airforce Young Investigator Award. She is one of a few researchers in the state of Texas to have been elected by the Noman Hackerman Advanced Research Program (Early Career Award) for applications of her RNA work in developing biochemical sensors to monitor biochemical effects of environmental pollutants on lung cells. Having earned her Ph.D. in 2008, she has a strong research record. With her lab group, she has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, two book chapters, and has served as a guest editor of a special issue of RNA techniques for the journal Methods.

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