2015-02-03 OCRID investigator is developing tool for testing, treating lung infections

OSU Chemical Engineering is on the forefront of tissue engineering as researchers such as DR. HEATHER FAHLENKAMP blaze new trails in modeling lung and other human tissue. 

This research provides hope and opportunities for those with compromised immune systems. 

“The goal of my project is to create a tissue-engineered lung model that can be used to investigate how one’s immune system responds to infectious agents,” the associate professor says. “Specifically for this project, we are focusing on influenza, commonly known as the flu.” 

Lung infection from influenza is a leading cause of disease and death worldwide, says the World Health Organization. There are many strains of influenza, and some are stronger than others. 

“The damaging health effects of the highly pathogenic strains are related to an excessive immune response,” says Fahlenkamp. “The lung model would provide a critical tool, making it possible to investigate some of the key aspects of influenza pathogenesis.” 

Fahlenkamp’s proposed model will contain multiple human cell types within a 3-D environment that provides for cell movement and interaction. 

“The results of this project will have an important positive impact because the new information on the immune response to influenza has great potential to provide new targets for preventive and therapeutic interventions in influenza infection. The lung model will be of great and continuing value for testing treatment strategies,” she adds. 

A Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence grant funds supplies to carry out her experimental work and pay graduate students’ salaries to work on the project. The grant also covers a portion of her academic salary, allowing her to focus more time on the research project. She will have funds to travel to meetings and conferences to present her research findings and learn about other work being done in this area. 

“Being part of a research center also provides access to core facilities that would otherwise not be available to a single investigator, as well as access to a wealth of expertise from mentors and consultants associated with the center,” Fahlenkamp says. “I will have the opportunity to work with experts in the field and to build collaborations for future projects. The grant will help me take my research to the next level.” 

Fahlenkamp’s research aims to create and characterize a lung model that behaves similarly to human lung tissue. The lung model will be used to study the effect of various strains of influenza virus on key cell types that influence the immune response to the virus. 

“By the end of the first year, I expect to have designed the 3-D environment for the model, which includes a porous scaffold that allows for cell migration and growth within the entire scaffold and culture conditions to maintain the multiple cell types within the model,” she adds. 

Fahlenkamp received a National Science Foundation Career award for another project in tissue engineering. The goal was to create an advanced 3-D tissue model that can be used for testing and studying human allergic inflammatory responses. Over the last few decades, allergic diseases have increased dramatically in developed nations. The tissue-equivalent model can be comprised of patient-specific cells in order to function as an allergy sensor to detect specific biomarkers that are expressed during an allergic inflammatory reaction. 

Broader impacts of this project include a new way to test allergens and other inflammatory stimuli and evaluate site-specific delivery of active compounds to alter the local inflammatory and immune response. This research project has the potential to provide health care providers with more information to better manage patients with allergic diseases and a better understanding of inflammation in a broader sense. Such an aggressive approach could change how immunotherapies are tested, perceived and developed against diseases associated with inflammation. 

While her research in lung tissue has the potential to contribute to the future development of better flu vaccines, there are some immediate benefits as well. 

“Oklahoma State University, students and I will benefit from the immediate impact of adding resources and publicity to this important area of research,” says Fahlenkamp. “The state of Oklahoma also stands to benefit with an increase of technical expertise in the research area that could serve as an incubator for startup companies with the addition of new technical jobs within the state.” 


Source: www.ceat.okstate.edu

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OCRID investigator is developing tool for testing, treating lung infections
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Dr. Heather Fahlenkamp
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