The human body is a sophisticated organism that has complex internal communication systems down to a cellular level. However, these systems transmit more than just messages about healthy human functions; they can also influence disease. Consider cancer. Jinglei Ping, PhD, poses the question: “How do unhealthy cells transport their own cancer information to the nearby cells to have the tumor grow and finally turn into cancer?” More importantly, can the conversation be controlled to stop the disease? Dr. Ping, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with an adjunct role in biomedical engineering and affiliation with the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, will use his $1.9 million, five-year NIH grant to attempt to answer these questions. The Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award from the NIH will support Dr. Ping’s investigation into a new way to manipulate cell communication, with implications for developing therapeutics to treat cancer and heart disease. One way cells “talk” to their neighbors is by passing small particles called exosomes. “Exosomes are very small ‘bubbles’ generated by cells and the bubbles deliver important molecules, like RNA or small pieces of DNA, from one cell to another,” Dr. Ping explains.
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