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March 27, 2022
Dr. Jordan Williams, Assistant Professor in the MU-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and MCW's Department of Neurosurgery, has been awarded a one-year, combined Summer Faculty Fellowship and General Research Award from Marquette University in the amount of $11,500. In his new line of investigation, titled, “Development of a near-infrared in vivo imaging pipeline to track virus distribution for motor gene therapy,” Dr. Williams will label viral particles of a gene therapy vector to track their distribution throughout the body over time in a rodent model.
Viral gene therapy has recently emerged as a promising avenue for the treatment and reanimation of muscles and nerve cells paralyzed by injury or disease. In this process, a non-pathogenic engineered virus, loaded with genetic instructions to produce desired proteins in a target cell, is injected into a host organism. These genetic changes are expected to have a targeted effect on the manner in which a cell (e.g., a nerve controlling muscle activity) or its offspring behaves. In order to affect target cells, the genetically altered virus must travel from the injection site to the desired tissue(s) within the host organism. The routes the vectors take, as well as the amount of time required for them to make the journey and affect target-cell behavior—also known as distribution and incubation periods, respectively—are often poorly characterized. This lack of characterization negatively impacts the potential advancement of therapies such as those promoted by Dr. Williams and his laboratory, often leaving insight into why some injection parameters may succeed while others fail unclear. To address this challenge under the Marquette University-sponsored project, Dr. Williams and his team will tag viral vectors with a dye that fluoresces when illuminated by near-infrared light, thus allowing researchers to track the viral particles after injection as they travel and distribute within the host organism.
Dr. Jordan Williams, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Marquette-MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and Principal Investigator of the Neural Engineering, Interfacing, Modulation and Optimization Laboratory, also known as the NEIMO Lab. Ongoing research is interested in advancing neuroprosthetic and viral gene therapy stimulation toward restoration of paralyzed muscle activity, as well as using multi-modal brain recording and stimulation technologies to both advance neuroprosthetic-system capabilities and build a better understanding of the underlying relationship between different scales of recorded neural signals.