NIH awards over $15 Million

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Published November 21, 2023

Seven Chemical and Biological Engineering faculty members have secured $24 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the last seven years.  The NIH comprises 27 institutes and centers that aim to develop fundamental knowledge about living systems and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. NIH is supporting University at Buffalo chemical and biological engineers seeking to regenerate cells, fight cancer, deliver medication more effectively, and much more. Six faculty members lead 16 projects that could impact millions.

“Our researchers broadly advance health and health care. Robust NIH support is essential to achieving this global impact. ”
Department Chair of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Stelios Andreadis, SUNY Distinguished Professor, has secured four grants from NIH as principal investigator (PI) and one as a co-investigator and mentor. Andreadis’ most recent project, in collaboration with Fraser Sim from the UB Department of Pharmacology, and supported by a $2.9 million grant, develops programmable hydrogels for delivery of neural stem cell-derived oligodendrocytes to lessen the effects of demyelinating disease, a condition that deteriorates the protective coating around neuronal axons. Oligodendrocytes are cells of the central nervous system that play a key role in maintaining the health of neurons.

Andreadis’ group will use a $2.4 million grant to investigate the role of the innate immune system in the successful implantation of tissue-engineered vascular grafts, developed in Andreadis’ laboratory.

The group is investigating the body’s inflammatory response to endothelialization, patency, and long-term remodeling of vascular grafts, toward the use of these off-the-shelf arterial replacement grafts to treat cardiovascular disease.

A $2 million grant is funding Andreadis’ investigation into reversing skeletal muscle aging. Using the transcription factor NANOG, their studies of its effects on metabolic and epigenetic rewiring of senescent cells led to the discovery of novel druggable targets to reverse aging and ameliorate the effects of age-related diseases.

Andreadis and Olga Baker, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Missouri are PIs on a $1.9 million project investigating strategies to promote regeneration of salivary glands impacted by radiation therapy during cancer treatment. Andreadis is also a co-investigator and mentor on a T32 training grant titled Advanced Training in Oral Biology.

Professor Chong Cheng is the PI on a $2.4 million grant to study an alternative polymer to carry cancer medications into the body. Polyethylene glycol (PEG)-based carriers are widely used in drug delivery. However, because PEG is used in a range of foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, people can develop antibodies against it, leading to allergic responses and reduced efficacy. Cheng’s zwitterionic polymers provide a promising alternative. “The major advantage of zwitterionic polymers is an immune response. Unlike PEG, there are currently no antibodies for zwitterionic polymers,” Cheng says. The team is testing whether zwitterionic polymer-drug conjugates (ZPDCs) can serve as a novel drug delivery system for medications treating pancreatic cancer.

Associate Professor Ashlee Ford Versypt is a co-PI with researchers at Ohio State University on a $2.1 million project integrating computational models and experimental data. The project uses models and data to optimize a drug delivery capsule’s release rates. The work advances treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration in the eye. In her project, Mathematic Modeling of Prebiotic Dietary Intervention on Immunomodulation During Estrogen Deficiency, Ford Versypt’s team aims to develop treatments for osteoporosis. “We study the dendritic cell-mediated bone and T cell responses to estrogen deficiency and B-galactooligosaccharides prebiotic dietary intervention in the periphery (bone and blood) and locally (gut) using a combination of in silico mathematical models and in vivo animal models.”

Ford Versypt is also the PI on the $1.9 million project Quantitative Systems Biomedicine and Pharmacology for Multiscale Tissue Damage. The goals for this project are to accelerate and facilitate the construction and reuse of multiscale models and create multiscale models to improve physiological understanding of how immune stimulants affect damage in inflammation and immunotherapy.

UB Distinguished Professor Sriram Neelamegham is the PI or co-PI on five NIH-funded projects. Neelamegham’s most recent project will develop SARS-CoV-2 virus-like particles and analyze the immune response against these particles using mouse and pig models. Neelamegham is also leading two projects associated with cellular glycosylation. The first is developing mathematical modeling methods and experiments to study cellular glycosylation reaction networks, to understand how glycosylation is regulated in human blood cells and its impact on inflammatory diseases. The second is a supplemental grant to support machine learning algorithms used to analyze the glycoscience data collected in the first initiative.

Neelamegham and associate professor Sheldon J. Park recently completed a grant to test the hypothesis that glycosyltransferases can be engineered using rational molecular design to yield glycan-binding proteins. Neelamegham is co-PI on another NIH grant through the University of Nebraska Medical Center that supports mass spectrometry and CRISPR-Cas9 workflows.

Professor Blaine Pfeifer is collaborating with scientists at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center on a $2.4 million grant to address the limitations of dendritic cells. Dendritic cells patrol skin and soft tissue and alert the immune system when hostile microbes invade. Dendritic cells often do not warn of cancer’s arrival. Because cancer forms within the body, immune system cells do not view it as hostile. Pfeifer and others aim to overcome this limitation by training dendritic cells to consume pieces of genetic information – key proteins found on patients’ cancer cells – enabling them to alert the immune system so it can fight the cancer. 

Pfeifer and Elsa Bou Ghanem, assistant professor in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, are developing a pneumococcal disease vaccine designed for aged subjects. Elderly patients are more prone to pneumococcal disease and pneumonia. This work is supported by a $2.4 million grant.

Rudiyanto Gunawan, associate professor, is a co-PI on a project titled Leveraging Pathogen-Host Networks to Identify Virus-specific and Estradiol-regulated Mechanisms during Respiratory Infection.