Research & Innovation

Stevens Receives Collaborative NIH grant

Multiple myeloma is an incurable form of cancer and the second most frequent blood cancer in the United States. To gain new insight into this malignancy and find effective treatments, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and at Hackensack University Medical Center a $685,690 grant over three years, to develop the microfluidic technology that can be used to reconstruct multiple myeloma (MM) tumors in vitro from tumor cells harvested from patients.  

This “tumor engineering” approach is anticipated to provide a new avenue for: (1) diagnostic testing of personalized therapeutics for MM patients, (2) preclinical evaluation of new drugs without animal models, and (3) studying the mechanisms responsible for drug resistance and relapse associated with this incurable cancer.

“The development of this cutting-edge technology will bring the excitement of discovery, collaboration and entrepreneurship to an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students,” said Dr. Woo Lee, George Meade Bond Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Stevens Institute of Technology and principal investigator of this project.

The funding will support the work of a diverse team of experts from Stevens and Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) that includes engineers and physicians.

“In order to tackle the greatest questions of the field of medicine and biology, each one of us brings a set of distinctive attributes to the table that helps us develop the platforms and tools we have set out to create with our work,” said Jenny Zilberberg, Ph. D. Assistant Scientist in the Department of Research at HUMC, and who serves as multiple Principal Investigator of this project with Dr. Lee. “Both our differences and commonalities make our collaborative efforts unique.”

The malignant cells in MM thrive as well as hide in the environment of the bone marrow. Scientists have found it very difficult to reproduce in the lab the special conditions found in the bone marrow, hindering their ability to study the effects of drug treatments on the tumor cells derived from actual patients. The Stevens-HUMC has recently found that a microfluidic perfusion device can be used to enable the ex vivo preservation and expansion of patient MM cells, which have not been possible previously. This invention has provided an important basis for obtaining this NIH grant.

This new technology will allow scientists to have an “off-the-shelf platform” to study the tumor cells and their interactions, as well as assess drug treatment strategies for MM, which has not been possible to date, explained Wenting Zhang, a Ph.D. student in the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science and a winner of the 2013 New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame, for her pioneering contribution to the tumor model development.

“I want to have a good understanding and improve the current multiple myeloma tissue model to get ready for next stage, which is to validate this new technology by having clinical trials in Hackensack University Medical Center,” Zhang said.