Grant to Advance Tech for Traumatic Brain Injury Study

Kartik Balachandran
University Relations

Kartik Balachandran

A biomedical engineering research team has been awarded $135,000 from the National Science Foundation to use "organ-on-a-chip" technology to study long-term impacts of traumatic brain injury and neurological diseases.

The funding comes as sub-award from Nanomatronix, a Fayetteville-based company that uses nanotechnology, microelectronics, and biotechnology to provide solutions to the healthcare, defense and aerospace industries.

The University of Arkansas team is led by Kartik Balachandran, associate professor of biomedical engineering. The grant is part of the NSF's Small Business Technology Transfer grant, which is aimed at bringing research to market

Researchers will study the impact of a traumatic brain injury on the blood-brain barrier, the area between the blood vessels in the brain and the brain itself. The research will be conducted using a microfluidic cell culture chip that simulates the blood-brain barrier.

The blood brain barrier can be damaged when it undergoes a mechanical injury, and researchers plan to use the organ-on-a-chip to study how the barrier responds to that trauma.

Little is known about how the blood-brain-barrier responds to the mechanics of a traumatic brain injury, including varying levels of force, deceleration and impact frequency. Balachandran's work looks to advance organ-on-a-chip technology to allow for effective testing of those variables, leading to an enhanced understanding of how the human body responds to traumatic brain injuries.

"One of the immediate downstream effects of traumatic brain injury is edema - fluid leakage into the brain via a damaged blood-brain-barrier," Balachandran said. "We are seeking to develop a platform that can be used to understand these phenomena. This platform can also be used as a test bed to study potential treatments."

The grant builds on a 2018 National Science Foundation grant.

"This grant seeks to improve of the technology initially developed in 2018 to make it more amenable to commercialization - i.e. making the tech user-friendly for end-users, and instrumenting sensors for non-invasive readouts," Balachandran said.

Balachandran said the University of Arkansas' entrepreneurial ecosystem helped make the project possible.

"This grant was obtained in partnership with Nanomatronix LLC, which is located within the Engineering Research Center's tech hub," he said. "The university's Technology Ventures office has assisted in filing a provisional patent for the chip technology developed in our lab, and we expect full patent filing will be done in 2021."

Raj Rao, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said the partnership was an excellent example of success for the region's innovation ecosystem.

"I commend Dr. Balachandran and Nanomatronix on this partnership towards developing innovative technologies focused on addressing many unknowns as it relates to TBI," he said. "This is a great example of the innovation ecosystem developing in Northwest Arkansas that is not only focused on developing technologies but also on training our students on taking the important steps towards commercialization possibilities."

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