Two grants will fund interdisciplinary research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, including a look at how neurons and muscle cells communicate with each other and also to develop a drug delivery system for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Science Foundation grant will facilitate the study of how neurons and muscle cells communicate with each other.

My group is interested in designing functional muscle and using it to assemble autonomous bio-actuator systems.

The muscle designed in vitro is not the same as the muscles of our body because the system does not have innervating motor neurons. This project is to understand how we can facilitate the innervation of neurons in muscle. “

Hyunjoon Kong, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Robert W. Schafer

Kong’s laboratory will collaborate with Gabriel Popescu, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Martha Gillette, professor of cell and developmental biology. All are affiliated with the Beckman Institute.

In addition to studying how neurons and muscle cells communicate, the Kong group will also analyze the interaction between neurons and glial cells, which influence neuronal activity. “Although glial cells are not well characterized, they are known to provide certain signals that cause neurons to transmit their electrical signals,” Kong said.

“I will work with the group of Martha Gillette, who are experts in neurobiology and can guide us in what kind of neural cells we should observe,” Kong said. “The members of the Popescu group are experts in imaging intracellular events and we want to use their imaging techniques to demonstrate the interaction between neurons and muscle cells.”

The members of the Kong group hope that the study will allow them to understand how neurons can be reactivated in the injured muscle, which can help improve the treatment of various neuromuscular disorders and acute muscle injuries.

The second grant, from the Alzheimer Foundation, will fund the Kong group research in collaboration with Hee Jung Chung, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and a faculty member at the Beckman Institute.

The grant will study how a medication that has the potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease can be administered to the body. The drug was developed to attack the tau proteins that, together with the β-amyloid proteins, cause the disease. “Historically, researchers have focused on treatments that reduce β-amyloid proteins. However, a large group of patients do not respond to those treatments because tau proteins are also responsible,” Kong said.

The Kong group hopes to join the research effort that now focuses on synthesizing carriers of nanometric-sized drugs that can target tau protein. “The drug that targets tau proteins cannot currently be used because it is hydrophobic and therefore cannot be dissolved in water,” Kong said. “As a result, it cannot be administered orally or by injection.” The group will try to solve the problem by encapsulating the drug in a nanoparticle system that can be used to attack the diseased regions of the brain.


Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology


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