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CSU Awarded $1.3 Million NIH Grant for Stem Cell Research

Dr. Moo-Yeal Lee and Dr. Chandra Kothapalli seek to improve tests for toxic compounds associated with neurological disorders

Moo-Yeal Lee, Ph.D., and Chandra Kothapalli, Ph.D., of Cleveland State University have been awarded a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for innovative stem cell research to improve testing for toxic compounds that could harm the development of the human brain.

The CSU researchers are developing an in vitro technique for analyzing the effects of toxicants on neural stem cells, which are found in the brain and evolve into nerve cells. Exposure to such toxicants in utero or during childhood may result in neurological disorders.

Dr. Lee and Dr. Kothapalli are professors in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering in CSU's Washkewicz College of Engineering. They aim to improve tests for predicting developmental neurotoxicity, which in turn could improve pre-clinical safety assessments of new medicines.

"Our goal is to expand our understanding of developmental toxicity on neural stem cells, which has profound implications for healthy neurological development as well as disease prevention," said Dr. Lee, the principal investigator on the project.

The research at CSU involves studying stem cells on microarrays, which are plastic chips whose grid format makes it possible to analyze hundreds of samples simultaneously. Similar toxicology studies conducted elsewhere have entailed animal testing or testing with primary human cells. However, neither of those methods can match the reliability of stem cell microarrays, which more closely replicate conditions within the human body.

The NIH grant will fund the research of Dr. Lee and Dr. Kothapalli for the next four years, through June 2019.

At CSU, Dr. Lee is developing microarrays that utilize “3-D bioprinting” to mimic human tissue, with potential applications ranging from regenerative medicine to drug testing. He has published 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including the prestigious Nature Communications. He holds 12 patents and patent applications.

Dr. Kothapalli's research interest include stem cells, vascular tissue engineering and cancer cell biology. His work has led to one approved patent and two filed patents, as well as 30 peer-reviewed journal publications. He holds adjunct appointments at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute and the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, where Dr. Lee is also an adjunct faculty member.

The Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at CSU conducts research across a range of areas, including renewable fuels, polymeric nanoparticles for drug delivery and materials for space applications. The department has partnerships with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, the Ohio Aerospace Institute and NASA's Glenn Research Center, as well as Northeast Ohio chemical companies. The Lubrizol Foundation recently awarded a $350,000 grant to the department for the renovation of its chemical engineering laboratory. A team of CSU students from the department won first place in the 2014 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Design Competition for devising an alternate method for manufacturing influenza vaccine.