A UC Merced professor has earned the school’s first-ever W.M. Keck Foundation Award, officials announced Wednesday.
Professor Victor Muñoz’s approach to advancing biomedical research was selected for the award, worth $1 million over the next five years, according to a news release.
The Los Angeles-based Keck Foundation focuses on recognizing pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research.
“This is a fantastic first for UC Merced, and it points to the growing recognition of the important research being conducted on the campus,” School of Engineering Dean Mark Matsumoto said in the news release.
Muñoz plans to design and engineer a new kind of protein he previously discovered to measure even slight changes inside cells and provide high-resolution, highly specific information in real time, the statement said.
This is a fantastic first for UC Merced, and it points to the growing recognition of the important research being conducted on the campus.
Mark Matsumoto, School of Engineering dean
A bioengineer who joined UC Merced’s School of Engineering in 2014, Muñoz said he has been looking at these special kinds of proteins for more than a dozen years, but it’s only now that he has found practical ways to turn them into super-performing biosensors. He holds degrees from universities in Spain and earned his Ph.D. from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, according to a UC Merced profile.
“They are, simply, devices that can selectively detect the levels of biologically relevant compounds, such as hormones or drugs, or even key biological processes such as aging and the onset of disease,” Muñoz said in the release.
The W.M. Keck Foundation gives out a handful of research grants each year through a highly competitive process, according to the release. There are two categories for research awards: medical, and science and engineering, and each campus is allowed only one entry in each category. Muñoz’s award falls under the medical research category.
“What’s unusual about these awards is that the Keck Foundation supports new, high-risk, high-reward research projects that might not be as far along in development,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz said he will officially name his lab the W.M. Keck Research Lab, and start a Ph.D. fellowship – the W.M. Keck Research Fellowship in Bioengineering – to honor student excellence in biophysics and biomedical research.