Gangaraju Awarded CORNET Grant

Raja Shekhar GangarajuA new collaboration between Dr. Raja Shekhar Gangaraju at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and Dr. Bingmei Zhu at the West China Hospital-Sichuan University (WCHSU) garnered the team a UTHSC/WCHSU CORNET Award for the project, “Reconstitution of CD140b (PDGFR) using CRISPR/Cas9 in the adipose tissue-derived stem cells improves homing capacity and protect against retinal tissue damage.” The project will address how adult stem cells help regenerate a diseased retina and thus accelerating translational research to further the field of regenerative medicine using adult stem cells.

“Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is characterized by both degeneration of microvessels and neurons often leading to blindness,” states Dr. Gangaraju. “Our lab recently demonstrated that intravitreal injection of ASCs in the eyes of diabetic rodent models improved the retinal function, yet we failed to locate these cells in vivo. Additional work in my lab established a pivotal role for CD140b signaling in that ability of ASCs to modulate the angiogenic behavior of human retinal endothelial cells via direct or paracrine signals. In this research, we will aim to reconstitute CD140b in ASCs using CRISPR/Cas9. Using these cells, we expect to improve poor cell retention and viability in the hostile pro-inflammatory environment of the injured retinal tissue, a known challenge for cell-based regenerative medicine in DR.”

Gangaraju notes that the collaboration with Dr. Zhu provides an opportunity to expand research with international collaborators while addressing this important issue. “Dr. Zhu is a Professor in the Regenerative Medicine Research Center WCHSU, and has extensive experience working with mesenchymal stem cells,” he says. “Her research interest focusing on epigenetics and gene editing in ASCs/MSCs to change the cell fate determination, promote angiogenesis and protect against coronary artery diseases is very important.” 

Gangaraju notes that UTHSC’s CORNET programs provide a welcomed opportunity for research support. “The CORNET programs offered by UTHSC provide an avenue for investigators to add to their research portfolio outside of federal funding,” he says. “I appreciate the support that UTHSC provides, and look forward to the results that this research will yield.”