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USM Polymer Professor Awarded Prestigious NIBIB Trailblazer R21 Honor

Wed, 02/28/2024 - 08:44am | By: Ivonne Kawas

Trailblazer Award
Dr. Tristan Clemons, assistant professor in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering (SPSE) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), was recently awarded a Trailblazer R21 Award from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) for his research that aims to develop new biomaterials for tissue regeneration and drug delivery applications in treating diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, central nervous system and burn injury.

The Trailblazer R21 Award is an opportunity for early-stage investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the NIBIB at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences.

“Being recognized as a Trailblazer is an honor and it fills me with pride to say it is our first major grant for the Clemons Lab team as we establish our research program at Southern Miss,” said Clemons. “It serves as validation for the hard work my students and team put in each day and also from the broader community that our ideas and projects have promise. We are excited about now executing on the vision of the grant.”

With cardiovascular disease identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the leading cause of death in Mississippi, the Trailblazer R21 Award marks a significant milestone for the Clemons Lab. This recognition signifies a crucial advancement in pioneering solutions for treatments that can make an impact throughout our state and beyond.

Clemons explains his research focuses on an innovative method of using polymers in the development of antioxidant treatments.



"If successful, our method involving the use of polymers in the development of antioxidant treatment has the potential of not only providing antioxidant properties but also incorporating cells and other biological materials to truly encourage tissue regeneration following an injury, which is exciting,” he said.

Clemons addresses some of the challenges associated with current antioxidants, noting: “They are difficult to target to the site of need where oxidative damage is occurring, and we plan to combat that with our new materials. The unique challenges specific to this work boil down to two major aspects: getting the materials to the site of oxidative damaging (targeting the injury) and then ensuring we maintain significant potency to have an antioxidant (and in turn therapeutic) benefit.”

Since joining Southern Miss, Clemons has enjoyed the privilege of working with a dynamic team of students. Currently, the Clemons Lab team consists of five graduate students and nine undergraduates, all actively contributing and pushing the envelope of polymeric biomaterials.

“USM is a fantastic place for research, and I am simply grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the rich history and legacy that USM polymer science has here in Hattiesburg and more broadly within the polymer community,” said Clemons.

“Dr. Clemons' receipt of the NIBIB Trailblazer R21 Award is a testament to the high caliber of our faculty and to the innovative research fostered within our School of Polymer Science and Engineering,” said Dr. Derek Patton, SPSE director. “This accolade not only highlights Dr. Clemons' pioneering ideas to use the body’s natural response to tissue damage to activate polymeric biomaterials for wound healing, but also reinforces the critical role of training students, our next generation of scientists, at the interdisciplinary boundary of polymers and biology.”

Prior to USM, Clemons was a research associate at Northwestern University (Advisor: Prof. Sam Stupp), and a National Health and Medical Research Council fellow investigating nanomaterials for the treatment of burn injuries at the University of Western Australia. While completing his PhD in materials chemistry he simultaneously represented Australia as a goalkeeper on the men’s field hockey team.

Most recently, he was also a part of the USA Field Hockey Team. He is an entrepreneur, founding and running a successful startup company in sun-smart fashion. He actively volunteers and advocates for science outreach, inspiring thousands of students about the possibilities of a career in science. His commitment extends to his role as an ambassador for the Rotary Foundation’s Microscope in Schools project. His wife, Claire Clemons, is also a member of the SPSE, where she serves as the director of education and outreach.

About the Trailblazer R21 Award

The Trailblazer R21 Award is an opportunity for New and Early Stage Investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the NIBIB at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences. The Trailblazer Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), employs an R21 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant mechanism, enhanced to provide $400,000 in direct costs over three years, allowing sufficient time and resources to pursue a new or emerging research program. A Trailblazer project may be exploratory, developmental, proof of concept, or high risk-high impact, and may be technology design-directed, discovery-driven, or hypothesis-driven.  Importantly, applicants are expected to propose research approaches for which there are minimal or no preliminary data.