With support from the New Frontier Science group of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers are conducting innovative research that could open new avenues for treating such diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and others.
NFS collaborates with external researchers in an effort to advance innovative technologies and integrate them into future medicines.
“There are tens of millions of people worldwide who suffer from neurological disease, and there aren’t many treatments because of the blood-brain barrier and the obstacle it presents to drug delivery,” says Eric Shusta, a professor of chemical and biological engineering who is one of two UW-Madison co-investigators on the project.
The blood-brain barrier is a unique membrane made up of tightly knit, high-density endothelial cells, which line the inner walls of the capillaries and blood vessels that supply the brain. This barrier can selectively restrict foreign substances — harmful or beneficial — from passing into the brain.
Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor David Lynn has received the Biomacromolecules/Macromolecules Young Investigator Award, an honor sponsored by the journals of the same names and the American Chemical Society. The award honors Lynn, who will give an award lecture at the fall ACS meeting in Indianapolis, for his contributions to polymer science. CBE Professor Eric Shusta has received the BIOT Young Investigator Award from the American Chemical Society Division of Biochemical Technology. The award recognizes Shusta’s contributions to the field of biochemical technology and active participation in the division programs. Shusta will deliver an award lecture at the ACS national meeting in April.
Two engineering faculty are among eight promising young UW-Madison faculty who have been honored with Romnes Faculty Fellowships.
The Romnes awards recognize exceptional faculty members who have earned tenure within the last four years. Selected by a Graduate School committee, winners receive an unrestricted $50,000 award for research, supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).
The award is named for the late H.I. Romnes, former chairman of the board of AT&T and former president of the WARF board of trustees.
Patricia Keely, professor of cell and regenerative biology and biomedical engineering, focuses on how cellular interactions with the extracellular matrix are altered during carcinogenesis, to result in invasive, metastatic carcinoma. She leads the Tumor Microenvironment Program at the Carbone Cancer Center, and serves as director of the Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology Graduate Program.
Eric Shusta, professor of chemical and biological engineering and biomedical engineering, researches drug delivery to the brain and the development of molecular, cellular and protein engineering tools that can help gain a better understanding of blood-brain barrier function. His work has drawn an NSF CAREER Award, the American Chemical Society Biotechnology Division Young Investigator Award, and a College of Engineering Outstanding Instructor Award.
The blood-brain barrier — the filter that governs what can and cannot come into contact with the mammalian brain — is a marvel of nature. It effectively separates circulating blood from the fluid that bathes the brain, and it keeps out bacteria, viruses and other agents that could damage it.
But the barrier can be disrupted by disease, stroke and multiple sclerosis, for example, and also is a big challenge for medicine, as it can be difficult or impossible to get therapeutic molecules through the barrier to treat neurological disorders.
Now, however, the blood-brain barrier may be poised to give up some of its secrets as researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created in the laboratory dish the cells that make up the brain’s protective barrier. Writing in the June 24, 2012 edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Wisconsin researchers describe transforming stem cells into endothelial cells with blood-brain barrier qualities.
Access to the specialized cells “has the potential to streamline drug discovery for neurological disease,” says Eric Shusta, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the senior authors of the new study.“You can look at tens of thousands of drug candidates and just ask the question if they have a chance to get into the brain. There is broad interest from the pharmaceutical industry.”