Under a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers at the University of Arkansas and two partner institutions will develop purified membranes for future large-scale production of viral vectors and virus-like particles.
Successful development of commercial-grade purifying membranes will improve human health by increasing access to new treatments for genetic and chronic diseases, especially for middle- and low-income individuals.
Viral vectors are tools that scientists use to deliver harmless, modified versions of viruses into human cells. As functional genetic material in vaccines, it performs the important function of instructing cells to recognize and fight disease, including viruses.
“The development of cost-effective, large-scale biomanufacturing for purifying viral vectors and virus-like particles is a major challenge,” said Xianghong, professor of biomedical engineering at U of A and principal investigator of the project. Qian said.
The rush to develop a coronavirus vaccine underpins this challenge. Manufacturers struggled to produce membrane filters for purifying viral vectors and virus-like particles, largely due to capacity and membrane fouling, causing delays in vaccine production. Poor membrane performance also led to production delays.
In this project, researchers led by Qian will create a scalable downstream manufacturing platform for refining. This platform replaces standard centrifugation and resin-based chromatography processes that are difficult to scale up in manufacturing.
This project will require production of two common viral vectors for gene therapy, virus-like particles for vaccine applications, and advanced microfiltration feedstock for bioreactor harvesting. Researchers will design, fabricate, and characterize high-capacity membranes and develop membrane chromatography to separate full and empty viral capsids.
Researchers use state-of-the-art bioanalytical methods for detection and quantification, and develop preparatory and acceptance studies that help propel the technology towards commercial production.
Arkansas State Researcher — Co-Principal Scientist Bob Beitle, Professor of Chemical Engineering. Ranil Wickramasinghe, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. In addition to Qian, several others will work with researchers at the University of Kentucky and Clemson University.
In addition to significant human impact, the project will provide economic benefits to Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina, establishing regional incubator centers for biotechnology development.
About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, U of A offers an internationally competitive education with over 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes his $2.2 billion to the Arkansas economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and employment development, research and creative discovery, and provision of specialized training. contributed more than The Carnegie Foundation classifies U of A as one of the few US universities with the highest level of research activity. US News & World Report Ranks U of A among the nation’s top public universities. See how the U of A is working to build a better world in Arkansas Research News.