Welcome to the Center for Biomanufacturing Science and Technology

The newly formed Center for Biomanufacturing Science and Technology brings together faculty at the University of Delaware that tackle a wide array of problems and fundamental challenges in areas ranging from: cell culture processes and bioreactors; high-end and scalable purification processes; product formulation and stability; drug delivery; manufacturing; and analytical technologies, instrumentation, and algorithms to support all of these areas. The Center supports cutting edge research facilities on campus, educational activities including seminars, workshops, and shortcourses, as well as industrial research consortia.


Wilfred Chen (left) and Rebecca P. Chen are developing new biomolecular tools to address key global health problems.

Engineers control cellular proteins with biological computing

DNA has an important job—it tells your cells which proteins to make. Now, a research team at the University of Delaware has developed technology to program strands of DNA into switches that turn proteins on and off. UD’s Wilfred Chen Group describes their results in a paper published Monday, March 12 in the journal Nature Chemistry. This technology could lead to the development of new cancer therapies and other drugs.

Computing with DNA
This project taps into an emerging field known as DNA computing. Data we commonly send and receive in everyday life, such as text messages and photos, utilize binary code, which has two components—ones and zeroes. DNA is essentially a code with four components, the nucleotides guanine, adenine, cytosine, and thymine. In cells, the arrangement of these four nucleotides determines the output—the proteins made by the DNA. Here, scientists have repurposed the DNA code to design logic-gated DNA circuits. “Once we had designed the system, we had to first go into the lab and attach these DNA strands to various proteins we wanted to be able to control,” said study author Rebecca P. Chen, a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering (no relation to Wilfred Chen). The custom sequence designed DNA strands were ordered from a manufacturer while the proteins were made and purified in the lab. Next, the protein was attached to the DNA to make protein-DNA conjugates. The group then tested the DNA circuits on E. coli bacteria and human cells. The target proteins organized, assembled, and disassembled in accordance with their design. “Previous work has shown how powerful DNA nanotechnology might possibly be, and we know how powerful proteins are within cells,” said Rebecca P. Chen. “We managed to link those two together.”

Applications to drug delivery
The team also demonstrated that their DNA-logic devices could activate a non-toxic cancer prodrug, 5-fluorocytosine, into its toxic chemotherapeutic form, 5-fluorouracil. Cancer prodrugs are inactive until they are metabolized into their therapeutic form. In this case, the scientists designed DNA circuits that controlled the activity of a protein that was responsible for conversion of the prodrug into its active form. The DNA circuit and protein activity was turned “on” by specific RNA/DNA sequence inputs, while in the absence of said inputs the system stayed “off.” To do this, the scientists based their sequence inputs on microRNA, small RNA molecules that regulate cellular gene expression. MicroRNA in cancer cells contains anomalies that would not be found in healthy cells. For example, certain microRNA are present in cancer cells but absent in healthy cells. The group calculated how nucleotides should be arranged to activate the cancer prodrug in the presence of cancer microRNA, but stay inactive and non-toxic in a non-cancerous environment where the microRNA are missing. When the cancer microRNAs were present and able to turn the DNA circuit on, cells were unable to grow. When the circuit was turned off, cells grew normally. Read UDaily article…


NIMBLE (National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals) announcement and tour of the facilities of DBI (Delaware Biotechnology Institute), Friday, December 16th, 2016 with Chris Coons, Tom Carper, John Carney, Willie May-NIST Director and Under Secretary of Commerce and Penny Pritzker-Secretary of Commerce.

NIMBLE (National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals) announcement and tour of the facilities of DBI (Delaware Biotechnology Institute), Friday, December 16th, 2016 with Chris Coons, Tom Carper, John Carney, Willie May-NIST Director and Under Secretary of Commerce and Penny Pritzker-Secretary of Commerce.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announces the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals.

Secretary of Commerce Visits UD to Announce New Institute
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker visited the University of Delaware today, where she announced a new institute to advance U.S. leadership in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The Newark-based National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) will be the 11th Manufacturing USA Institute. Biopharmaceuticals are prescription drugs made with living cells. Most drugs are chemistry-based and far easier to produce. The biopharmaceutical category includes vaccines, cancer drugs and drugs to treat autoimmune diseases, as well as emerging drugs for cell and gene therapies. The institute will focus on bringing safe drugs to market faster and on developing workforce training. The biopharmaceutical field has a negative unemployment rate, with more jobs available than there are qualified workers. A team of more than 150 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and state governments will operate NIIMBL under a newly formed nonprofit. Expected total investment from all stakeholders totals $250 million, including $70 million of federal investment. The University of Delaware will handle administrative duties for the institute in partnership with the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Its headquarters will be on UD’s campus in a location to be determined. “In communities from coast to coast, the Manufacturing USA network is breaking down silos between the U.S. private sector and academia to take industry-relevant technologies from lab to market,” Pritzker said. “The institute announced today is a resource that will spread the risks and share the benefits across the biopharmaceutical industry of developing and gaining approval for innovative processes. The innovations created here will make it easier for industry to scale up production and provide the most ground-breaking new therapies to more patients sooner.” Read UDaily article…


April Kloxin (standing) and doctoral student Lisa Sawicki study samples in UD’s Colburn Lab.

Susan G. Komen Grant to Support Research on Breast Cancer Recurrence

Although early detection and better treatments have resulted in more women with breast cancer surviving past the five-year mark, 20 percent of disease-free patients will experience a recurrence anywhere from five to 25 years later at a metastatic site — most often in the bone marrow or the lungs. And their chances of surviving this secondary cancer are lower because it is often quite advanced before it is detected. “There’s a significant clinical need to understand the mechanism of late cancer recurrence to determine disease markers and improve treatment strategies,” says the University of Delaware’s April Kloxin. “It has been hypothesized that late recurrences originate from tumor cells that disseminate to these other tissues in the body where they become dormant and are later re-activated.” Kloxin recently received a $450,000 grant from Susan G. Komen aimed at developing a better understanding of this dormancy and reactivation process so that ultimately recurrence can be prevented. “While estrogen receptor positive tumors typically have better initial outcomes, late recurrences are a concern,” she says. “If we can understand the mechanisms that drive the switch from dormancy to growth of this type of cancer, we can identify predictive biomarkers that may indicate which women are at risk and lay the foundation for the development of more effective treatment.” Kloxin’s team plans first to create materials that mimic various metastatic sites and then identify key signaling pathways in cancer dormancy within these 3-D microenvironments. Second, they will focus on determining what regulates re-activation of the cancer cells within this cultured system. Finally, they will establish commonalities of dormancy or activation of patient-derived tumor cells in the culture model. “This last goal is where we’re really excited about our collaboration with the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute in the Christiana Care Health System,” Kloxin says. “Evaluating cells from actual patients will provide us with the heterogeneity of real cases and enable us to compare our findings with the traditional markers observed by clinicians.” Read UDaily article…

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