UA researches receive NSF support to develop the next generation bioassay instrument


Above from left, Dr. Jiang Zhe, professor of mechanical engineering and Dr. Christie Zhang, professor of biomedical engineering

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting the work of University of Akron researchers who are developing a first-of-its-kind instrument that will provide rapid, simultaneous analysis of both a variety of cell secretions, as well as cell responses to stimuli.

The agency awarded Dr. Jiang Zhe (Principal investigator), professor of mechanical engineering, with collaborator Dr. Christie Zhang (Co-principal investigator), assistant professor of biomedical engineering, a three-year, $546,636 research grant to fund the project titled "An Integrated Microfluidic Platform for Parallel Analysis of Cell Secretome and Cell Responses in Real Time."

Multi-disciplinary approach to research

By bringing together the high-tech instrument developed in Dr. Zhe’s laboratory with Dr. Zhang’s expertise in biomedical studies, the project aims to provide the biomedical research community with a comprehensive, low cost, powerful instrument that will advance basic understanding of how cells sense and respond to external stimuli in real time, which will help explain the mechanisms behind many cell related phenomena.

Current technology requires multiple, time-consuming steps to analyze the changes of cells and their secretions (secretome). Additionally, no existing instrument can simultaneously measure the proteins in secretome and the cell responses to stimuli.  But UA researchers plan to minimize the time it takes to measure cell secretome and cell responses by developing a compact instrument that can conduct analysis of numerous cell-secreted proteins and cell responses simultaneously.

“Bioassay of cell secretomes and cell responses to stimuli and their temporal and spatial changes can reflect the state of the cells during morphogenesis, differentiation, injury, as well as disease progression, which is urgently needed by biological science and bioindustry,” says Zhe. “The developed instrument will have broad impacts on secretomics, drug discovery and therapy development, and lead to improved public health.”

Potential for cell-free therapies

The ability to analyze and measure the characteristics of cells and the proteins they secrete is critical to understanding disease progression because the protein secreted from a cell controls a broad range of physiological functions.

 “This research has the potential for significant impact within biological research communities,” says Zhang. “When we better understand the cell secretome, we can begin to detect disease earlier and even introduce cell-free therapies where specific cell secretome is reproduced and used as a drug.”