Delaware Biotechnology Institute

Center for Advanced Technology Grant Program (CAT)

News and Announcements

Congratulations to our recent awardees! Please see the exciting projects that are now underway.

The Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) Grant Program seeks to grow Delaware’s economy by fostering innovative research and development activites in agriculture, human health, energy, and the environment. The CAT program sponsors four grant mechanisms to attract and retain life science businesses and help to create new high-tech jobs in Delaware.


Harsh Bais

University of Delaware: Plant and Soil Sciences

iHiT. Developing a pipeline to deliver next-generation biologicals for nutrient management and increased crop yield.
Human activities have degraded our landscapes and ecosystems and depleted the vigor, health, and diversity of our microbiomes. Here, we show that unique, dormant microbes in buried, historic soils can be revived to enhance plant growth and be reservoirs to isolate and characterize next generation of biologicals. If successful, we will be to characterize and formulate standalone microbial strains or communities to grow plants under N limiting conditions. This work will provide a novel and healthy alternative to synthetic N fertilizer that will enhance soil health and plant yields and lead to more sustainable agricultural practices.

Emily Day

University of Delaware

Hybrid membrane-coated nanoparticles for multi-cellular targeting in the tumor microenvironment
This project will develop nanoparticles coated with cell-derived biological membranes that can target both cancer cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) within the tumor microenvironment. Current technologies typically target only cancer cells, but both cancer cells and CAFs, which are major supporting cells in tumors, must be eliminated to halt tumor growth and metastasis. We will validate our multi-cellular targeting approach using in vitro and in vivo models of triple-negative breast cancer. Success in this model will warrant future expansion of this highly tunable and versatile platform to other disorders where multi-cellular targeting is desired and could improve disease outcomes.

Vincent Fondong

Delaware State University

Development of Potato Virus Y-Resistant, Potentially Non-GM Potato Using CRISPR-based “Prime Editing”
Potato is the fourth most important food crop in the world and is the leading vegetable crop in the United States. Unfortunately, this crop is infected by very many viruses, including Potato virus Y (PVY). Here, we will use CRISPR-based “prime editing” to introduce 21- and 42-nucleotide sequences derived from PVY to develop novel virus-resistant potato. The project will develop a novel strategy to produce non-GMO potato with durable resistance to PVY. Importantly, our newly identified genomic loci likely occur in other crops, thus this work will provide new opportunities to introduce virus-resistance into other crops without using superfluous transgenes.

Jason P. Gleghorn

University of Delaware

Cell-mimetic carriers for drug delivery to lymph nodes
The first site of metastasis for most solid tumors is the lymph node. Once cancer has successfully invaded the lymph nodes, the odds of successful treatment drop dramatically. The difficulty in delivering chemotherapeutics allows the cancer to continue to thrive, eventually evolving mechanisms that promote metastasis throughout the body. We developed an intravenous carrier system that can deliver tunable drug payloads to the lymph node. This means we can target specific tissues and have therapies released over several days. Our delivery system can therefore improve the effectiveness of cancer drug therapy and minimize undesired side effects that non-localized treatments cause.

April M. Kloxin

University of Delaware

3D Controlled Cell Culture for All (3DC3A): Accessible systems to address cancer recurrence
Effective treatments for breast and prostate cancers remain a significant clinical and socioeconomic need. A great challenge remains in treating metastatic disease, including late recurrences. This proposal will establish innovative, accessible 3D culture models and demonstrate their use for the evaluation of therapeutics for addressing this challenge. This work is enabled by an exciting collaboration between investigators at the University of Delaware and Inventia North America. Our studies will provide student training opportunities for workforce development, demonstrate the power of the Inventia RASTRUM, and generate new technologies, joint publications, and grant applications for a burgeoning academic-industrial partnership.

Li Liao

University of Delaware: Department of Computer and Information Sciences

CAT-iHIT: Improving helical residue contact prediction with novel transfer learning
Accurate prediction of residue contact can shed light on understanding how proteins function in cellular processes, with potential impact on agriculture and human health. Despite the recent progress, contact prediction remains a challenging task, with the accuracy capped at around 80%. A ground breaking transfer learning paradigm is proposed to tap into the highly informative atomic features available in a limited number of training examples to build a machine learning model that can then be applied to many proteins without structural information for more accurate prediction. The techniques are adaptable for other applications were informative features only available at training.

Vijay Parashar

University of Delaware

Development of cytoDNA FISH for imaging and quantification of cytosolic DNA
The DNA within our cells is typically found tightly packed in the nucleus but cellular stresses and errors in DNA repair can cause DNA fragments to leak into the cytoplasm. This cytosolic DNA can provide important information about the state of the DNA repair pathways and the immune system. Currently there is no direct assay that is sensitive and accurate enough to measure cytosolic DNA. We are developing cytoDNA FISH, a transformative tool to obtain a quantitative and sensitive analysis of cytosolic DNA fragments. This innovative technology will greatly help in assessing the effectiveness of drugs targeting DNA repair pathways.

John H. Slater

University of Delaware

Identifying Surface Receptors for Targeted Drug Delivery to Treat Metastatic Breast Cancer
The Slater Lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware and Extrave Bioscience are collaborating to develop a new targeted therapeutic delivery system to treat metastatic breast cancer. If successful, this new targeted delivery system could have a substantial impact on breast cancer patients both locally and worldwide.

Bizuneh Workie

Delaware State University

Developing Electrochemical Destruction of “Forever Chemicals” Fluorocarbon Surfactants – Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) from Contaminated Water
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic compounds widely used in various industries. PFAS are found worldwide in the peoples’ blood, animals, drinking water, various food products, and the environment. PFAS are challenging to remove and destroy by conventional treatment technologies. The primary objective of this research project is to develop an electrochemical method for the safe destruction of regulated PFAS. Our preliminary studies showed that electrochemical methods remove and degrade a wide range of PFAS compounds. The project offers a non-combustion treatment technology that does not require high pressures and temperatures and could have a significant economic impact.


Jeffrey L. Caplan

University of Delaware

iHiT. Development of a plant cellular profiling tool using multiplexed labeling and deep learning
Plant breeders improve crop plants by selecting desirable characteristics such as improved disease resistance, drought tolerance or yield. Many approaches examine macro-scale changes in plants, however, all the changes visible by eye are driven by microscopic changes in cells. This project aims to develop a “plant cellular profiling” tool that will measure microscopic cellular features. Deep learning will be used to find cellular components illuminated with a cocktail of fluorescent dyes to measure hundreds of cellular characteristics. This tool can be adapted for high-throughput phenotyping, chemical screening, and studies examining the effect of environmental stress or pathogen infection.

Arit Ghosh

University of Delaware

ARC – Role of mechanosensation in T cell activation for modulation of cancer progression
Recent advances in scRNA-seq and high-dimensional flow cytometry analyses have propelled T-cell based immunotherapy applications. Mechanosensation with regards to T-cell biology has become an emerging field to study how T cells will adapt to mechanical cues in circulating blood to seek our cancer cells. With this project we aim to elucidate the role of the prime mechano-sensor – Piezo1 in T cell mediated responses to cancer cell proliferation and provide a comprehensive gene expression and immunophenotyping profiles at a single-cell resolution from whole (human) blood and PBMC (peripheral blood mononuclear cell) samples.

Brian Levine, MD

Christiana Care Health System

iHIT – Physiological Investigation of Liver Organisms in Tissue (PILOT)
Our study involving researchers from ChristianaCare, and the University of Delaware will investigate the existence of bacteria in the liver of patients with cancer or scar tissue. Past studies have confirmed a presence of bacterial DNA in the liver, but it is uncertain whether it is a living community influencing the functions of the liver or even associated with the development of cancer. As there is minimal published data to date on the relationship between bacteria and disease in the liver, these microbial communities may be an early indicator of malignancy, or inflammation in liver tissue.

Joohyun Lim

University of Delaware

iHIT – Investigating temporomandibular joint (TMJ) progenitor cell heterogeneity through single-cell transcriptomics analysis
In this proposal, we aim to identify unique cell types in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and determine their role in disease and regeneration. We will utilize state-of-the-art single-cell RNA-sequencing to study cellular heterogeneity, which could lead to the identification of molecular and cellular targets for temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) that affects over 11 million individuals in the United States. Findings from our proposed work will have wide-ranging impact including the generation of key preliminary data for extramural funding that will help recruit additional trainees and enhanced accessibility to cutting-edge single-cell transcriptomics to the Delaware research community.

Sunitha Sadula

University of Delaware: Delaware Energy Institute

EPoC – Biobased Safer Insecticide Active Ingredients
The proposed EPOC project aims to create environmentally safer and economically competitive biomass-derived insecticides to replace traditional insecticides that are known pollutants. In our recent discovery, the first biomass-derived insecticide active ingredients were synthesized scoring 9 out of 12 green chemistry principles, and the bioactivity was evaluated (patent pending technology). The bioactivity results and techno-economic assessment showed that the new bioinsecticides are potent, environmentally safer, and economically competitive compared to commercial insecticides. In this project, three goals are proposed to identify lead molecules and create a structure-activity relationship to further develop the technology. The success of the project will lead to a stronger proposal with a newly formed company.

Dionisios Vlachos

University of Delaware: Delaware Energy Institute

iHIT – Predictive Tools for Eco-sustainable Bioplastics
Biochemicals derived from plants can significantly slash carbon footprint, and biomaterials’ properties are often superior to their competitive crude oil analogs. Despite these advantages, developing optimal processes is lengthy, and the final product properties are unknown before the material is made and tested. We propose a physics-inspired artificial intelligence (AI) program to develop tools and data and guide bioproduct synthesis. We also plan to predict the degradation derivatives in the environment.

Yanfeng Yue

Delaware State University

iHIT – Molecular Imprinting Polymer Adsorbents for Removing Antibodies from Wastewater
This proposed research seeks to develop nanoporous polymer adsorbents by means of molecular imprinting (MIP) technique to create template-shaped cavities for removal of trace antibiotics from the wastewater. Facile methods will be explored to prepare MIP sorbents contain nanopores that will increase the mass transfer and enhance adsorption selectivity for removing antibiotics from wastewater. Additionally, this project will provide new opportunities for students from underrepresented groups to participate in research, pursue graduate education, and prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders for the economic growth.

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