Northeastern Professor Receives $1.4 Million Grant for Vaccine Development

Professor Shashi Murthy developed a device that automates a process necessary for testing new vaccines.

A Northeastern University professor has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) for his work streamlining the vaccine development process.

Shashi Murthy, a professor in the chemical engineering department at Northeastern, has developed a tool that can turn monocytes, the largest type of blood cell, into dendritic cells, the cells that detect infection in the body and tell the immune system how to respond. Vaccines work by directing dendritic cells how to kill a disease, so it’s important to have many dendritic cells available when testing new vaccines—sometimes a difficult necessity, since turning monocytes into dendritic cells is currently done through a 16-step manual process.

Murthy’s instrument would change that. When given a blood sample, the device automatically turns monocytes into dendritic cells, making it far easier for researchers to produce the tools they need to test new vaccines. The device would also allow scientists to more freely test vaccines using the dendritic cells of a specific person or population, rather than whatever they happened to have on hand in the lab.

The NIH grant will allow Murthy to begin a four-year project, collaborating closely with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to develop a version of his device that can be produced at large scale. Nadine Aubry, dean of Northeastern’s College of Engineering, said in a statement that Murthy’s expertise makes him well-suited to this type of project:

“With their com­bined exper­tise in vac­ci­nology, microflu­idics, and device com­mer­cial­iza­tion, Pro­fessor Murthy and his col­lab­o­ra­tors are absolutely the right team to develop new tools to quickly and safely develop new vaccines—a crit­ical need with tremen­dous poten­tial to ben­efit society worldwide.”