Purification Membranes for Viral Vectors Will Improve Human Health

Xianghong Qian
Photo Submitted

Xianghong Qian

With a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers at the University of Arkansas and two partner institutions will develop purification membranes for future large-scale manufacturing of viral vectors and virus-like particles.

Successful development of commercial-grade purification membranes will improve human health by increasing access to new treatments for genetic and chronic diseases, especially for middle- and low-income people.

Virus vectors are the tools by which scientists deliver harmless, modified versions of viruses to human cells. As the functional genetic material within vaccines, they perform the critical function of instructing cells to recognize and fight diseases, including viruses.

“Development of cost-effective, large-scale biomanufacturing for the purification of viral vectors and virus-like particles is a major challenge,” said Xianghong Qian, professor of biomedical engineering at the U of A and principal investigator for the project.

The rush to develop a vaccine for coronavirus confirmed this challenge. Manufacturers struggled to produce membrane filters to purify viral vectors and virus-like particles, primarily because of capacity and fouling of membranes, which caused delays in vaccine production. Robust membrane performance under a range of operating conditions also led to production delays.

For this project, researchers led by Qian will create a scalable, downstream manufacturing platform for purification that will replace the standard processes of centrifugation and resin-based chromatography, both of which are difficult to scale up in manufacturing.

The project will require feedstock production of two common viral vectors for gene-therapy, virus-like particles for vaccine applications and advanced microfiltration for bioreactor harvesting. The researchers will design, fabricate and characterize high-capacity membranes and will develop membrane chromatography for separating full and empty viral capsids. 

The researchers will use state-of-the-art bioanalytical methods for detection and quantification and will develop a readiness and acceptance study to help drive the technology toward commercial production. 

The Arkansas researchers — co-principal investigators Bob Beitle, professor of chemical engineering; Ranil Wickramasinghe, Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering; and several others, in addition to Qian — will collaborate with researchers at the University of Kentucky and Clemson University. 

In addition to the significant human impact, the project will bring economic benefits to Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina, where regional incubator centers for biotechnology development will be established.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.


Xianghong Qian, professor of biomedical engineering
College of Engineering
479-575-8401, xqian@uark.edu

Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu


U of A United Way Campaign Set to Begin Soon

This year’s U of A United Way Campaign begins Oct. 2 and runs through Nov. 3. Renewals and new donations will be accepted online throughout the campaign.

Adult and Lifelong Learning Student Recognized as Top 10 Civics Teacher of the Year Award Finalist

After 21 years of teaching in the public school system, Jessica Culver was recently recognized as a top 10 finalist for the Bill of Rights Institute's nationwide Civics Teacher of the Year Award.

Medical Humanities Sponsors Talk on History of Mumps

The Medical Humanities Program and Department of History will host a talk from Professor Matthew P. Romaniello of Weber State University on Oct. 6 from 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m. in Gearhart Hall 130.

National Leaders to Discuss U.S. Child Labor Laws

The Arkansas Law Review's annual symposium will feature 13 scholars, lawyers and child labor experts during sessions on Oct. 13 in the law school's E.J. Ball Courtroom. Register to reserve a seat.

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month With the University Libraries

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Mullins Library staff have compiled a list of ebooks and streaming videos available to all students, staff and faculty. Stop by Mullins Library to see the display, too.

News Daily