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The problem is that the endothelial cells lining our blood vessels become dysfunctional during cancer and some non-malignant diseases, thus interfering with drug delivery, triggering inflammation, and slowing healing. To resolve this critical issue, Assistant Professor Govind Srimathveeravalli of the UMass Amherst Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department has received a five-year, $558,436 grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). His CAREER research will develop a trailblazing approach for modulating endothelial-cell function by using pulsed electric fields, or ultrashort electrical waveforms in which each pulse is a few microseconds long. In the process, his method will also focus drug delivery to tumors and speed up the healing process for such maladies. See https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2338949.

One good example of this problem is our ageing population. As the number of elderly people   mushrooms, there has been a dramatic increase in patients diagnosed with non-metastatic but locally advanced tumors. These patients cannot be surgically treated due to their advanced age and/or co-morbidities, thus creating an urgent need for alternative treatments.

Srimathveeravalli’s new approach offers a solution to this challenge and many more chronic health issues, such as diabetic ulcers that affect this demographic, in which the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels play a major role.

As Srimathveeravalli explains, “The objective of this CAREER proposal is to tackle this important question by developing a technology for the targeted stimulation of endothelial cells using pulsed electric fields that can be delivered to the desired region of the body using minimally invasive medical devices [developed in the Srimathveeravalli lab].”

Srimathveeravalli believes that developing devices to deliver pulsed electric fields, which can directly restore the function of endothelial cells during disease, will produce powerful new tools for targeted drug delivery to tumors and overcome many limitations of existing technologies.

This NSF-supported research will do just that. According to Srimathveeravalli, “The [CAREER] project will study pulsed-electric-field waveforms that enable controlled and specific alteration of the endothelial-cell barrier function, identify the biological pathways that mediate this response, and test this approach for enhancing drug delivery to tumors.” 

Srimathveeravalli adds that the novel devices, tools, and knowledge gained from his CAREER research can also support new investigations into the role of endothelial cells in various diseases and improve treatment outcomes for countless cancer patients and also those with non-malignant tumors.

Srimathveeravalli will also coordinate with Amherst Regional High School to introduce those students to energy emitting medical devices, providing exposure to them about the role of engineering in human health and teaching them that electricity can be a therapeutic. Srimathveeravalli has been mentoring students from this high school for the past two years and, through this CAREER award, will expand this program to establish a peer-led workshop for the students. 

“This [CAREER] research is closely aligned with my long-term career goal of leading a program on bio-electrics and uncovering cell and tissue response to pulsed electric fields using multiscale models developed in my lab,” as Srimathveeravalli says about his Srimathveeravalli Research Group. “Knowledge gained from our proposed experiments will guide the design of translational medical devices for therapy of cancer and also some non-malignant diseases.” 

Before coming to UMass Amherst, Srimathveeravalli was an Assistant Member in the Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University at Buffalo and underwent postdoctoral training on cancer research and image-guided therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (April 2024)

Article posted in Research