Colorado State University Engineer, Biochemist Named 2011 Boettcher Investigators

Note to Reporters: Photos of Nick Fisk and Tingting Yao are available with the news release at

The Boettcher Foundation on Wednesday named Colorado State University assistant professors John D. (Nick) Fisk and Tingting Yao two of only five 2011 Boettcher Investigators as part of the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Program, which helps recruit, retain and advance scientific talent in Colorado.

The two are the only biomedical researchers from Colorado State University to receive the honor, which comes with a three-year, $200,000 grant. Fisk, a chemical and biological engineering professor, and Yao, a biochemistry professor, join researchers from the University of Colorado in the second class of Boettcher Investigators.

Melissa Reynolds, assistant professor of chemistry at Colorado State, received the recognition in 2010.

“We appreciate the generosity of the Boettcher Foundation and the Webb-Waring Foundation to help our young researchers advance their careers and continue their cutting-edge work,” said Colorado State University President Tony Frank. “CSU is committed to research benefiting human health and developing innovations that can advance and improve medical treatments for the benefit of society. We are extremely proud that Drs. Fisk and Yao are among our distinguished research faculty.”

Five of eight colleges submitted candidates for the prestigious award this year, said Bill Farland, vice president for Research at Colorado State, whose office helps select finalists for Boettcher.

“These generous, early-career Investigator awards are accelerating our scientific discoveries,” Farland said. “Dr. Reynolds, last year’s recipient from CSU, recently received a grant from the Department of Defense to develop wound-healing technology for use in the battlefield. Her team of undergraduate and graduate students is also benefitting from the experience of working side-by-side with one of our most talented young faculty members. We will expect similar benefits from this year’s recipients.”

More about this year’s CSU Boettcher Investigators:

Nick Fisk

Fisk is an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at CSU. His laboratory is developing molecular assemblies to do the work of more complex medical devices to quickly and cheaply detect molecular markers of disease.

In 2010, he received a $100,000 grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for research “to explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health.” Fisk is modifying a bacterial virus particle to interact with disease molecules and identify active tuberculosis (TB) infections in the absence of expensive equipment or medical facilities.

The grant from the Boettcher Foundation will allow Fisk to continue the development of bacterial virus particles with a technological utility – specifically improving and expanding on the sensor development project initially funded by the Gates Foundation.

Tingting Yao

Yao joined Colorado State’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as an assistant professor in 2009. She studies peptide-based inhibitors of ubiquitin-mediated autophagy, or the process by which molecular components of the cell, including damaged organelles and proteins, are recycled. Her research has significant potential for the development of therapeutics to treat various diseases associated with this process, including cancer, neurodegeneration and aging.

Ubiquitin is a small protein consisting of 76 amino acids that is present in all living cells – from yeast to human beings. Ubiquitin attaches itself to other proteins as a regulatory signal in a broad spectrum of biological processes.

In her graduate studies, Yao published a paper in Nature that identified a new class of enzymes responsible for removing ubiquitin during various stages of cellular physiology – a major discovery that has resulted in 296 citations since its publication in 2002. Since joining CSU, she has co-authored a paper in Science, a journal with one of the highest impact ratings in all areas of science.

About the Boettcher Foundation

For more than 70 years, the Boettcher Foundation has served the people of Colorado by investing in young minds through its Scholarship Program and helping to build community infrastructure through capital grant making. In virtually every community throughout the state, the Foundation has partnered with outstanding nonprofits to make a difference in people’s lives. The Foundation believes that this is what the Boettcher family intended when they gave their wealth to establish the Foundation for the benefit of the citizens of Colorado. For more information, visit