Desai receives $1.2M from Gates Foundation

Sorensen Family Dean of Engineering Tejal A. Desai has received a three-year, $1,200,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop encapsulated cell factories for sustained delivery of antibody therapeutics.

Antibody-based drugs have emerged as a leading therapeutic class, but their administration by intravenous or subcutaneous injection is limited by the rate of systemic clearance, necessitating frequent dosing. Developing technologies that provide long-term sustained delivery can reduce costs, improve patient compliance, and increase the overall quality of life for patients dealing with chronic diseases. A promising solution is the use of miniaturized devices suitable for minimally invasive implantation to deliver antibody-producing cell factories. Cell factories have the potential to continuously produce therapeutic from a fixed payload of cells, sustaining long-term release and efficacy through an external nutrient supply. An antibody-releasing cell-based device capable of long-term therapy could be placed with a single minimally invasive procedure and would enable efficacious treatment of chronic diseases in low resource settings. 

The Desai Lab, with deep expertise in biomaterials and therapeutic delivery, will work collaboratively with the Veiseh group at Rice University who are developing engineered cell lines (supported separately by the foundation), to develop an implant that can deliver therapeutic payloads such as anti-malaria antibodies for up to a year.

“We are excited to receive support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop this innovative device technology with the potential to help patients around the globe.”

Desai assumed the role of Dean of Engineering at Brown University in September of 2022. An accomplished biomedical engineer and academic leader, Desai’s research spans multiple disciplines including materials engineering, cell biology, tissue engineering, and pharmacological delivery systems to develop new therapeutic interventions for disease. She seeks to design new platforms, enabled by advances in micro and nanotechnology, to overcome existing challenges in therapeutic delivery. She has published over 260 peer-reviewed articles and patents. Her research efforts have earned numerous recognition including Technology Review’s “Top 100 Young Innovators,” Popular Science’s Brilliant 10, and the Dawson Biotechnology Award. She was President of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2020-2022) and is a fellow of AIMBE, IAMBE, CRS, and BMES. In 2015, she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and in 2019 to the National Academy of Inventors. She recently delivered the 2023 Robert A. Pritzker Distinguished Lecture at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting, the highest BMES honor bestowed upon one individual who has demonstrated impactful leadership and accomplishments in biomedical engineering science and practice.