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Grant from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will advance inflammation research

A team led by Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Eduardo Reátegui has earned The Ohio State University’s first-ever grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).

A color scanning electron microscopy image of ex vivo human neutrophils swarming on a microparticle array device.A color scanning electron microscopy image of ex vivo human neutrophils swarming on a microparticle array device.The $350,000 award will support efforts to decode inflammation through immune cell behavior, specifically neutrophils. Reátegui’s co-investigator is Tim Laemmermann of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany.

Inflammation is a natural defense that helps our bodies maintain a healthy state and rebound from injury. But it also plays a role in organ failure, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and severe infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician and philanthropist Priscilla Chan, CZI recently announced $14 million in funding to support 29 interdisciplinary teams and build a network of researchers to increase understanding of inflammation, and thus improve the ability to cure, prevent or manage disease.

Neutrophils are the most common circulating immune cell type—they swarm sites of tissue damage after injury to boost repair or clear pathogens. They are also difficult to study, as neutrophil behavior is dramatically different in a culture dish than inside the body, and capturing them for single-cell analysis is challenging.

ReateguiReategui“Understanding the cellular and molecular drivers of neutrophil swarming have the potential to shed new light on the onset and resolution of inflammation in the human body,” said Reátegui. “It is completely unknown how the swarming response is terminated to avoid unlimited neutrophil accumulation and prevent excessive inflammation.”

Failure to shut down these pro- and anti-inflammatory responses is considered critical in non-healing wounds and at the onset of chronic inflammation, he added, which in turn may contribute to degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

The team will utilize a combination of a miniaturized lab-on-a-chip device, intravital microscopy and advanced molecular techniques to systematically define the mechanisms controlling neutrophil swarming during inflammation and infection. Reátegui said he and Laemmermann plan to extend their model to explore inflammation of the lungs, which could have great relevance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reátegui just finalized a new iteration of the device to increase the throughput of the assay, which will be sent to Laemmermann’s lab soon for testing. A kick-off meeting in early June will include other awardees of CZI grants to maximize networking and potential collaborations.

“We have been actively working in this area over the last two years, so it will be incredible to explore new avenues of intercellular communication during inflammation,” said Reátegui.

The current CZI cohort includes a total of 80 researchers working on projects, 75% of which are led by early-career scientists within six years of starting their independent position. Grantee teams are made up of two to three investigators with distinct areas of expertise, including physicians, experimental biologists, technology developers, and computational scientists. The awarded project teams represent 11 countries.  

“Knowing more about inflammation at the level of affected cells and tissues will increase our understanding of many diseases and improve our ability to cure, prevent, or manage them,” said CZI Head of Science Cori Bargmann. “We look forward to collaborating with these interdisciplinary teams of researchers studying inflammation.”

To view the full list of grantees, visit chanzuckerberg.com.