UofL researchers rehydrate dried blood in weightless environment

Goal of the research is to ensure availability of medical care during long-term space missions
UofL researchers rehydrate dried blood in weightless environment

Research crew preparing to board ZERO-G aircraft with the glovebox.

Technologies in development by researchers at the University of Louisville are aimed at ensuring astronauts on long-range space missions have access to medical care. A UofL research team recently tested rehydrating dried red blood cells in a weightless environment. The UofL group completed more than 50 weightless cycles during two flights to test rehydrating the blood and the use of 3D-printed surgical instruments aboard a ZERO-G aircraft.

ZERO-G is a privately owned company that uses a modified Boeing 727 jet to create a weightless environment using parabolic flight patterns. The experiments, sponsored by NASA, are designed to ensure that crews have access to proper medical treatment during long-range exploration space flights, such as to Mars.

Michael Menze, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, and Jonathan Kopechek, Ph.D., assistant professor of bioengineering at UofL, lead a team that has developed several methods for drying blood to enable it to be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration. The dried blood then can be rehydrated using sterile water when it is needed. Current methods for storing blood require constant refrigeration and the blood can only be stored for six weeks, which would not be sufficient for crews on years-long space missions.

“If cosmic radiation reduces red blood cell count, for example, you are not going to have a donor and a recipient [with a four-person flight crew], you are going to have four people needing blood and there is no good way to store it during a long space trip of months or years,” said Brett Janis, a graduate research assistant who also is involved in the project. “So being able to store it in a dried state and then confidently rehydrate it is critical.”

The dried blood is typically rehydrated by adding water and inverting the container, Menze said. This method relies on normal gravity, however, so the researchers devised other methods for potential use in space. [See a video about the project HERE.]

To develop testing procedures, Menze worked with George Pantalos, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. Pantalos tested medical equipment in a weightless environment in the past and customized a glovebox enclosure he developed for his research for these experiments.

“If you are in reduced gravity or zero gravity, will the red blood cells rehydrate correctly and will they function like normal red blood cells, transporting oxygen to the tissues of the body,” Pantalos said.

Pantalos, Menze and Janis, along with other researchers and five students, designed and prepared the tests to rehydrate the blood cells and traveled to Florida with the glovebox and equipment in November 2019 to conduct the experiments aboard the ZERO-G aircraft. During the tests, the team assembled a bag with the powdered blood cells, a syringe and sterilized water in the glovebox. There they tested multiple techniques to rehydrate the cells during the weightless phases of flight.

“We tested two different ways of assisting in the mixing of liquid and powdered red blood cells,” Menze said. “We used pliable plastic bags instead of hard-plastic containers for the mixing. The water was added to the bag from an attached syringe and the liquid and powder were mixed by ‘massaging’ the bag or by using a second attached syringe and moving the liquid in and out of the bag. The ‘massage’ methods seem to work a bit better.”

Pantalos said the glove box and planned experiment techniques worked well, allowing the scientists and students to complete all the planned tests on the blood cells, which had been dehydrated using two different methods -- spray-dried and freeze-dried -- in 5 milliliter and 10 milliliter volumes. After the aircraft landed, the rehydrated samples were analyzed by a ground crew for evaluation to see if they are suitable for infusion into a patient.

“We found that the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood was comparable to what we find when we are rehydrating our blood at one-earth gravity,” Menze said. “I was really excited.”

During the flight, Pantalos also tested the use of 3D-printed instruments to simulate basic surgical tasks such as incision and retraction. By 3-D printing tools and instruments they need aboard the spacecraft, it is possible for the crew to take basic materials and create specific pieces according to needs that arise during the mission rather than trying to anticipate all potential medical needs in advance.

The NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which supports projects for developing technology appropriate for use in space flight, funded the preparation testing and the flights. The UofL team now is preparing for their next flight campaign, planned for later this year, to test rehydration processes for cells dehydrated using different methods and rehydrating up to 350 milliliters of blood, which would be needed in an actual transfusion therapy situation.

What in the world is CRISPR, anyway?

Beer with a Scientist features a non-scientist’s guide to cutting-edge biomedical research tools
What in the world is CRISPR, anyway?

Levi Beverly, Ph.D.

You may have heard about breakthroughs in medical research such as CRISPR, a technology that allows scientists to edit genes, or the microbiota, the bugs that live in and on us and are getting the credit and blame for any number of health conditions. But how can non-scientists understand these subjects and their effects on health and health care?

University of Louisville researcher Levi Beverly, Ph.D., is here to help.

At the next Beer with a Scientist, Beverly, associate professor in the Department of Medicine, will explain these and other recent developments in biomedical research for people without a degree in science.

“We will talk about CRISPR, microbiota and other topics, but we also are asking the audience what they want to learn about,” Beverly said. “People are invited to bring an article or headline they have seen that needs more explanation or to post questions or topics on our Facebook page, Louisville Underground Science.”

Beverly’s talk begins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Holsopple Brewing, 8023 Catherine Lane. A 30-minute presentation will be followed by an informal Q&A session.

Admission is free. Purchase of beer or other items is not required but is encouraged. Organizers encourage Beer with a Scientist patrons to drink responsibly.

UofL cancer researcher Levi Beverly, Ph.D., created the Beer with a Scientist program in 2014 as a way to bring science to the public in an informal setting. At these events, the public is invited to enjoy exactly what the title promises:  beer and science.

UofL well represented at the AASLD annual Liver Week

UofL was well represented at the AASLD (American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases) annual Liver Week, in Boston on November 13-17 2019.  We had more than 15 presentations, including several oral presentations on topics ranging from environmental liver injury to alcohol associated liver disease.  Dr. Craig McClain co-chaired the Alcohol SIG (Special Interest Group) meeting.

Dr. James Collins Joins M&I Faculty

Dr. James Collins Joins M&I Faculty

Dr. James Collins

Dr. James Collins joined the faculty as tenure-track Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, starting January 1, 2020.  Dr. Collins’ research focuses on the factors that underlie the spread of of epidemic, hypervirulent Clostridium difficile.  His recent discovery of the link between dietary trehalose and C difficile virulence was recently published in Nature (  Welcome James!

UofL Trager Institute executive director elected to national board

UofL Trager Institute executive director elected to national board

Anna Faul, PhD, and Catherine P. Carrico, PhD, President of the National Association for Geriatric Education board

Selected for her leadership in the area of geriatric education, Anna Faul, PhD, executive director, University of Louisville Trager Institute, has been elected to join the executive board of the National Association for Geriatric Education (N-AGE).

N-AGE is a non-profit membership organization representing geriatric education centers and other organizations that provide education and training to health professionals. The organization seeks to improve the quality of health care for older adults, including underserved and minority groups. N-AGE is a leading national voice for building a robust pipeline at every level of education to increase the size and skill set of students and professionals in the aging-related workforce.

“I am honored to be selected for this national leadership position. As a long-time educator in the field of gerontology, I am deeply passionate about increasing the workforce size and improving the skills of the aging-related workforce,” Faul said. “Workforce development is one of the UofL Trager Institute’s strategic initiatives and we have received several HRSA-funded grants to support this goal. I look forward to taking what we have learned from these programs to a national level.”

“We are thrilled that Dr. Faul has joined the N-AGE Board of Directors. She is an experienced leader in the field who brings a wealth of knowledge about aging services and geriatrics,” said Catherine P. Carrico, PhD, president of the N-AGE board.

As a new board member, Faul will serve as chair of the Education and Training Committee. In this role, she will further the committee’s goal of enhancing nationwide opportunities for the education of health care practitioners in geriatrics and gerontology. Specifically, Faul will work to increase the visibility of HRSA Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Programs and Geriatrics Academic Career Awards. This builds on her experience as principal investigator for both the UofL Trager Institute’s HRSA Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program and HRSA Behavioral Health Workforce Enhancement Program. She also has served as mentor for Samantha Cotton, PhD, program manager at the UofL Trager Institute and 2019 Geriatrics Academic Career Award recipient.

Faul learned of her board selection during the 2019 Gerontological Society of America’s 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting in Austin, Texas. She begins her 3-year term on the N-AGE board in January 2020.

“I am grateful and excited to begin this new role on the National Association for Geriatric Education Board. This is an incredible opportunity to elevate the leadership of the UofL Trager Institute, and the University of Louisville in shaping the future of geriatric education in our country,” Faul said.


UofL medical student leads effort for medical education to prevent firearm-related injury

Suicide risk screening and other training added to UofL School of Medicine curriculum, resolution adopted by state and national medical organizations
UofL medical student leads effort for medical education to prevent firearm-related injury

Rachel Safeek, left, and Patrice Harris, MD, MA, president of AMA

Rachel Safeek, a second-year medical student at the University of Louisville, is calling for medical schools to train future physicians in techniques to help prevent injuries and death caused by firearms. Her work has led to UofL being one of the first medical schools to incorporate this training for all students.

“About 40,000 Americans die and 85,000 others are injured each year from firearm-related causes, and the incidence of firearm-related morbidity and mortality has increased over the past decade,” Safeek said. “This is a very important public health issue. My classmates, colleagues and I believe that physicians have a role in counseling patients related to their health and we have an opportunity through those interactions to help reduce the number of firearm-related deaths and injuries.”

In September, Safeek and her colleagues wrote and presented a resolution that was adopted by the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) to support training in Kentucky’s medical schools to reduce firearm-related morbidity and mortality in their curriculum. She presented a similar resolution at the American Medical Association conference in November, which was adopted by the American Medical Association Medical Student Section.

The resolution calls for all future physicians to have training to counsel patients in safe firearm use and storage, to know how to screen patients for suicide risk and to learn trauma-related first response techniques.

At UofL, Safeek presented a curriculum plan she coauthored with faculty members Suzanne McGee, M.D., and Charles Kodner, M.D., and Susan Sawning, M.S.S.W., to the School of Medicine’s Educational Program Committee, which voted to include it in the school’s curriculum beginning with the 2020-2021 academic year.

To jump-start the training effort, Safeek and other students and faculty have partnered with Whitney/Strong to organize a week-long series of optional events to educate UofL medical students, faculty and residents on firearm violence prevention, scheduled for February.

“Our hope is that more medical schools will incorporate this type of training into their programs and doctors will be able to help make a difference in this health crisis,” Safeek said.

Priya Chandan, M.D., M.P.H., recognized by AAPM&R for work in inclusive health for people with intellectual disabilities

Priya Chandan, M.D., M.P.H., recognized by AAPM&R for work in inclusive health for people with intellectual disabilities

Priya Chandan, M.D., M.P.H.

For Priya Chandan, M.D., M.P.H., creating an inclusive world for individuals with intellectual disability is a life mission. Inspired by her older brother who has Down syndrome, Chandan is leading efforts to ensure all health care professionals are trained to treat adults with intellectual disabilities.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) has presented Chandan the Distinguished Public Service Award at the organization’s annual assembly in San Antonio, Texas. Chandan, assistant professor in the University of Louisville’s Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, was selected thanks to her efforts at ensuring inclusive health through innovations in medical education and her work with Special Olympics.

In a ceremony last month, Chandan received the award, established to honor individuals who, in the course of public service activities, have significantly contributed to the growth and development of services that directly impact the specialty of PM&R. Previous winners of the award include Michelle Obama, Judith E. Heumann, an international disability rights activist, and numerous members of Congress.

Chandan is committed to inclusive health, the intentional inclusion of all people, including people with intellectual disabilities (ID), in mainstream health services, training programs, research, funding streams, policies and laws.

“Intentional inclusion of people with disabilities in the spaces physicians occupy — clinical, research and teaching environments — is critical for repairing trust with marginalized communities, including the 1 in 4 American adults with a disability,” Chandan said. “Historically, medicine has been part of the problem, which means we have a responsibility to be part of the solution moving forward by engaging in advocacy efforts together with the patients we serve.”

Chandan’s personal experience with her brother has given her a personal understanding of the need for physicians who can provide equitable care for people with ID. She led AAPM&R’s Inclusive Health Innovation grant from the Special Olympics, which involved policy, education and advocacy activities, including the creation of an AAPM&R Intellectual Disability Member Community.

“Dr. Chandan is taking her personal experience and has turned it into a passion that she uses every day in her career,” said Darryl Kaelin, M.D., chief of the UofL Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “She is making better care for individuals with intellectual disability a local and national goal. She represents the University of Louisville well.”

Chandan directs the National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine, a partnership between Special Olympics International and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry to ensure future physicians receive training to care for individuals with ID across their lifespan. For this program, she oversees inclusive medical education efforts at 18 medical schools nationwide and led UofL’s participation in the program, partnering with Special Olympics Kentucky and Lee Specialty Clinic.

Chandan also received funding from WITH Foundation to further develop medical education in the form of a standardized patient experience for PM&R residents using actors from Down Syndrome of Louisville.

Chandan is involved in Special Olympics International's Inclusive Health movement, where she serves as a content expert for the Center for Inclusive Health, an online resource for health care providers and other audiences for ways to intentionally include people with intellectual disability in mainstream health care services, training programs and research. She also is a global clinical advisor for MedFest, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program that provides free pre-participation sports physical exams to athletes with ID. She has engaged residents and faculty in MedFest efforts in Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky.

Chandan was a member of the 2018-19 cohort of the faculty leadership program at UofL, Leadership and Innovation in Academic Medicine (LIAM). As part of the year-long leadership curriculum, she and her group colleagues piloted interactive, online topic tournaments to increase active, self-directed learning opportunities in the medical school curriculum.

UofL medical residents collect toys for area children

UofL medical residents collect toys for area children

Toys for Tots

University of Louisville medical residents in collaboration with the UofL Office of Graduate Medical Education will make the holidays brighter for children in the community through their Toys for Tots toy drive. This is the fifth year 700 residents in 70-plus programs have made Toys for Tots the focus of their holiday service mission. This year the residents exceeded their goal of 1,000 toys. 

Department Welcomes New Staff Members

Ms. Stephanie Kittle, B.S. and Ms. Shelley Spalding, M.A., M.A.T. joined the Department on December 9 as our new Unit Business Manager and Graduate Program Coordinator, respectively.  Stephanie was the UBM at the Diabetes and Obesity Center in the School of Medicine previously.  Shelley was a student teacher at Bardstown High School prior to her current position.  Welcome Stephanie and Shelley!

Another successful fellowship match for UofL residents

Class of 2020 continues trend in great performance in the fellowship match
Another successful fellowship match for UofL residents

Many members of the UofL Internal Medicine Residency Program seeking fellowship appointments were matched successfully for the 2020-2021 academic year.

It was another blockbuster performance for the University of Louisville Internal Medicine Residency Program as a long list of soon-to-be graduated residents learned their future destinations in the recent fellowship match.

Six of those will continue their education at UofL.

"This match outcome represents two and half years of careful preparation by our residents," Dr. Jennifer Koch, director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program said. "They have worked hard to develop excellent clinical skills and contribute to scholarly work in their respective fields. I am proud of each of them!"

Those from The University of Louisville who matched for 2020 include:



Jonathan Alexander

Sruti Brahmandam

Sally Condon

Surosree Ganguli

John Guardiola

Saarik Gupta

Meliha Hrustanovic-Kadic

Travis Huffmann

Erik Jeanes

Will Linville

Dan Martin

Greg Miller

Chris Reed

Amal Shine

Fitsum Woldesellassie


Pulmonary/Critical Care





Pulmonary/Critical Care



Pulmonary/Critical Care

Pulmonary/Critical Care





Medical University of South Carolina

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

Indiana University

St. Vincent Heart Center (Indianapolis)

Virginia Commonwealth University

University of Kentucky-Bowling Green

University of Wisconsin

University of Louisville


Cooper Medical Center

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

East Tennessee State University

UofL closes on purchase of KentuckyOne's Louisville-area assets

UofL closes on purchase of KentuckyOne's Louisville-area assets

Workers prepare to make sign changes to Our Lady of Peace, now known as UofL Health - Peace Hospital.

The University of Louisville has completed its acquisition of KentuckyOne Health’s Louisville-area portfolio, ending two years of uncertainty about the future of Jewish Hospital and the other health care assets.

The transition of ownership from KentuckyOne’s parent company, CommonSpirit Health, to the university’s UofL Health affiliate is effective Nov. 1. Some 5,500 former KentuckyOne employees have now joined UofL and UofL Health, which has assumed management of the assets.

“This is an exciting and historic day for the University of Louisville,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “This acquisition enables us to ensure access to quality health care for our entire community, and it strengthens our School of Medicine and our Health Sciences Center campus by allowing us to offer more training opportunities for our students and more research capacity for our faculty. It also saves thousands of jobs that could have been lost if any of these facilities closed.”

UofL is acquiring the KentuckyOne assets with the promise of a critical $50 million, 20-year loan from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority. Half of that loan would be forgiven if the university meets certain criteria in terms of employment or service to underserved areas. The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s Foundation also are investing in the deal, contributing $10 million and $40 million, respectively.

“We owe such a debt of gratitude to our partners—Gov. Matt Bevin, the leadership of the House and Senate and these foundations—for making this transaction a reality,” Bendapudi said. She also thanked the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and leaders of the local Jewish community for the legacy of care they have created over more than a century of work in the Louisville community.

The purchase includes:

·         Jewish Hospital, including the Outpatient Center, Rudd Heart and Lung Center, offices and parking garages;

·         Frazier Rehabilitation Institute;

·         Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital;

·         Our Lady of Peace;

·         Jewish Hospital Shelbyville;

·         Jewish Medical Centers East, Northeast, South and Southwest;

·         Physicians groups affiliated with KentuckyOne.

All of the assets will be rebranded under the UofL Health umbrella.

“Today marks an important moment for the future of health care in the Louisville community, and I want to thank everyone who contributed to the successful completion of this transition,” said Larry Schumacher, Senior Vice President of Operations, Southeast Division, CommonSpirit Health. “As we transfer the ownership and operations to UofL Health, I am optimistic that these facilities will continue their legacy of excellence and innovation led by the outstanding employees and providers.”



UofL faculty develop and license specialized treadmill for children with spinal cord injuries

Medicine, engineering work together to build custom tool for successful therapy
UofL faculty develop and license specialized treadmill for children with spinal cord injuries

The old treadmill system, left. The new, specially designed treadmill system, right.

Children with spinal cord injuries have experienced remarkable results in recovery at the University of Louisville and Frazier Rehab Institute through locomotor training, a therapy designed to help them recover the ability to sit, stand and even walk. In locomotor training, the child is suspended over a treadmill and his or her feet are moved by trainers in a stepping motion. This taps into capability of the spinal cord to help the child regain movement and trunk control.

Andrea Behrman, Ph.D., of the UofL Department of Neurological Surgery and the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC), pioneered the use of locomotor training in children at UofL since 2012. Until now, however, Behrman’s team has used treadmills and harnesses designed for adults that have been adapted for children. The oversized equipment is cumbersome for children and working on cut-down adult-sized devices has resulted in unnecessary strain for the trainers and therapists who work with them.

So Behrman enlisted Tommy Roussel, Ph.D. of the Department of Bioengineering at UofL, to engineer a treadmill and harness system specifically for young children. Using engineering expertise, user feedback and a patent held by Susan Harkema, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery and pioneer in spinal cord injury research in adults at UofL, a new treadmill was designed from the ground up just for children. [See video]

“It was kind of like putting a kid on an adult bicycle or watching kids play basketball with a ten-foot goal,” Roussel said. “So we have redesigned the system with the same operational capacity but with kids in mind.”

The new pediatric treadmill has multiple advantages for both children and trainers:

  • Suspension tower is located behind the child on the treadmill so therapists can more easily and directly engage with the child
  • Narrower tread, focusing the child’s steps and bringing trainers closer to the child’s legs and feet
  • Trainers’ seats are more appropriately positioned closer to the child and are adjustable to accommodate trainers of different heights
  • Treadmill tower swivels to allow the child to be hoisted from a wheelchair and onto the treadmill
  • Smaller, more adaptable harness that is more comfortable and easier to adjust to the child’s changing capability

“The treadmill is a tool for us, but we want it to be a smart tool. By making it better, we are going to do our jobs better and the child is going to participate better,” Behrman said. “We changed it to make the child more accessible to the trainer with good body posture and position for all this repetitive activity.”

Thanks to funding and support from the Coulter Translational Partnership at UofL, the team was able to develop the initial prototype. Behrman and Roussel then collaborated with other specialized manufacturers, further refining the treadmill and harnesses. Once they had a customized treadmill, the team worked to commercialize the device and harness system to make it available to therapists in other centers.

“We starting thinking, ‘How can we make it better?’” Roussel said. “If we are going to move to manufacturing this, how can we make it more modular and with fewer parts that need to be assembled? That’s where the magic and the fun happened.”

The treadmill design was licensed to Power Neurorecovery and units are in place or on their way to facilities in Pittsburgh, Houston and New York, as well as in Louisville at Frazier Rehab Institute.

“In the last several years, we have been able to achieve things that have not historically happened in terms of rehabilitation outcomes for these children,” Behrman said. "Children once unable to sit on their own, for example, can now do so due to locomotor training. Such improvements open up other possibilities to play and engage, and help a child get back on the developmental track. This new treadmill system gives physical therapists and trainers a device that is state-of-the-art in design and utility and revolutionizes the way we deliver locomotor training specifically for children."


Thank you to these donors and developers:

Treadmill Donors

  • Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
  • Kosair Charities
  • WHAS Crusade for Children
  • Independent Pilots Association Foundation

Treadmill Developers

  • Ty Adams
  • Jena Allen
  • Laura Argetsinger
  • Andrea Behrman
  • Yangsheng Chen
  • Ran Cheng
  • Susan J. Harkema
  • Dena Howland
  • Winston Rauch
  • Tommy Roussel
  • Shelley Trimble
  • Winston Industries
  • Haffendorfer Machine Inc.
  • Tuff Tread Treadmills

Harness Donors

  • WHAS Crusade for Children
  • Rich and Norrie Oelkers and the Bonita Bay Tennis Club

Harness Developers

  • Jenna Allen
  • Laura Argetsinger
  • Andrea Behrman
  • Goose Kearse
  • Rachel Marsilia
  • MacKenzie Roberts
  • Misty Mountain Threadworks


Oct. 28, 2019

Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Students and Postdocs Win Top Research Presentation Awards

Graduate students and postdocs from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology swept nearly all of the PhD and Postdoc presentation awards at the annual Ohio Valley Society of Toxicology meeting held on Friday, October 18 at Procter and Gamble, Inc. in Mason, Ohio.

Jamie Young received the first place award for her platform presentation.  Jamie is a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Professor Lu Cai.

Rachel Speer received the first place award for her poster presentation and third place in the Tox on Clock research presentation.  Rachel is a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Professor John Wise Sr.

Ana Cardoso received the first place award for her platform presentation.  Ana is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Chris States.

Jennifer Toyoda received the first place award in the Tox on Clock research presentation.  Jennifer is a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor John Wise Sr.

Christine Kim received the second place award for her poster presentation. Christine is a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Professor Brian Ceresa.

Idoia Meaza received the third place award for her poster presentation.  Idoia is a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor John Wise Sr.

Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program to bring more advanced immunotherapy treatment to cancer patients

Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program to bring more advanced immunotherapy treatment to cancer patients

Tom Dunbar with his son, Evan

Cancer patients in Louisville, in Kentucky and throughout the region soon will have access to some of the most advanced immunotherapy treatments available. Louisville resident Thomas E. Dunbar has pledged $1 million to the University of Louisville to create a specialized center to provide chimeric antigen receptor positive T (CAR T) cell therapies to patients at the UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center and other centers in Kentucky and the Midwest. The new program will be named the Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program.

“This gift will allow both kids and adults to be treated right here in Kentucky with the most innovative cell-based immunotherapy being developed,” said Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UofL Brown Cancer Center.

See a video of the announcement here.

In CAR T-cell therapies, immune cells are extracted from the patient’s own blood and then are genetically modified to fight cancer. The modified cells are infused back into the patient where they fight the cancer and create long-term immunity to its recurrence. In addition to dramatic treatment results, CAR T-cell immunotherapy leads to fewer toxic side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

“Patients who have been treated with all the conventional therapies who then underwent treatment in clinical trials with CAR T cells had dramatic response rates. Eighty-three percent of kids in the original trial who had lethal, terminal B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia responded to this therapy,” Chesney said.

CAR T-cell therapy is FDA approved for treating patients who have B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, who are mostly children, as well as adults who have an adult form of a B-cell (non-Hodgkin’s) lymphoma. This technology also is being tested for treatment of other cancers through clinical trials. Until now however, these treatments have been available primarily in larger coastal cities outside of the Midwestern United States.

“At the UofL Brown Cancer Center, we feel strongly that these advanced therapies should be available not just to people in New York or California or Texas, but to people in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Illinois. If you live in these areas, it is going to be very hard for you to be treated a thousand miles away with a therapy like this,” Chesney said. “And any patient with health assistance through Medicaid is likely to be covered only if the treatment is delivered within the state.”

The Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program will include laboratories for manufacturing the CAR T cells and will administer both FDA-approved and clinical-trial therapies to adult and pediatric cancer patients. The program intends to expand clinical trials and clinical research using CAR T-cell therapy to treat additional cancer types in Louisville. The goal is for the facilities to be fully functional and receiving patients by Sept. 30, 2020.

Tom Dunbar’s son, Evan, lost his battle to cancer with neuroblastoma in 2001 at the age of 6. In 2009, Wally Dunbar, Tom Dunbar’s father, lost his battle with melanoma. This year, Tom’s physician wife, Stephanie Altobellis, M.D., helped identify his own cancer.

“Kentucky is at ground zero, with the nation’s highest rates of cancer diagnosis and death,” Tom Dunbar said. “It’s completely unacceptable. We have to lead the charge right here where the need is the greatest and we can do the most good. We need treatments that are not toxic. Watching our loved ones miserable with pain, often just from the treatments, and yet still die in front of us simply can’t be the best that we can do.”

How CAR T cells work

T cells are key immune cells in the body that attack cancer cells. CAR T cells are T cells that have been isolated from the patient’s blood and then genetically modified to more effectively destroy the cancer cells.

A non-infectious virus is used to insert genes into the T cells that express a receptor specific to proteins, or antigens, present on cells of the cancer to be treated. The armed, loaded T cell is drawn into close proximity to the cancer cell, and the new cell sends a signal for the T cell to kill the cancer cell.

“We add the receptor gene into the T cells, which makes them stick to the cancer cells like Velcro,” Chesney said. “In theory, all cancers have unique antigens on their surface that we can target with this approach. We are nudging the immune system on to really hit the target, in this case the cancer cells.”

The sophisticated technology requires the use of a specialized clean room for genetically manipulating the patients’ immune cells. The clean rooms, known as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) laboratories, require specialized documentation and equipment to protect the individuals working there and ensure a sterile and controlled environment for the cells.

The Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program will include two GMP laboratories, one for use in pediatric therapies to be named for Evan Dunbar and one for adult therapies to be named for Altobellis. These labs are intended to support not only clinical trials and patient treatment at the UofL Brown Cancer Center, but also in other health centers in Louisville, Lexington and elsewhere.

“Our goal for the Dunbar CAR T-Cell Program GMP labs is to be a hub manufacturing facility for CAR T cells, not just in Kentucky, not just in the region, but for the entire country,” Chesney said.

For Dunbar, the goal is to improve cancer treatment for patients.

“The burden is on each of us to create a better future for our children,” Dunbar said. “Working together, we can ensure Louisville is equipped to provide the durable cures, free of side-effects, that we desperately need.”

Professor John Wise Sr. receives education award from Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society

John Wise Sr



Dr. John Wise Sr., Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology recently received the EMGS Education Award from the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society.  The award is bestowed in recognition of sincere dedication to student and young investigator members of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society.

Pharmacology & Toxicology PhD candidates receive awards

Two Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD candidates recently received awards. 

Both are supported by T32 predoctoral fellowships on the NIEHS T32 UofL Environmental Health Sciences Training grant.

Jam ie Young received an award to honor her excellent oral presentation at the 13th Conference of International Society for Trace Element Research in Human (ISTERH) at Bali, Indonesia, September 22 – 26, 2019.  Jamie is pursuing her PhD in the laboratory of Professor Lu Cai.

Christine  Kim received a full travel award to attend the 16th Annual APA Environmental Health Scholars Retreat, November 1-3, 2019, in Providence, RI. During the retreat the focus will be on helping you continue to acquire the tools needed to be effective in the field of pediatric environmental health.  Christine is pursuing her PhD in the laboratory of Professor Brian Ceresa.

M&I Ph.D student receives University ExCITE grant

Henry NabetaM& I student Henry Nabeta received an ExCITE award of $50,000 for his project "Developing Q-Griffithsin as a new anti fungal agent".  UofL’s ExCITE program is funded through the National Institute of Health’s Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) program. The goal of the program is to support proof-of-concept centers (hubs) that facilitate and accelerate the translation of biomedical innovations into commercial products that improve patient care and enhance health.

UofL's Clayton Smith named Best Doctor by LEO Weekly

UofL's Clayton Smith named Best Doctor by LEO Weekly

Clayton M. Smith, M.D.

Clayton M. Smith, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the UofL School of Medicine and internal medicine physician with UofL Physicians, has received 1st place, Best Doctor in LEO Weekly’s Readers’ Choice Awards, winning over more than 100 nominees. Smith focuses his clinical practice on primary care internal medicine and LGBTQ health. He will be honored Oct. 3 at the Readers’ Choice Awards Party. 

See the LEO Readers Choice Awards list here.

NCI Cancer Education Program participants receive awards at Research!Louisville

NCI Cancer Education Program participants received best research poster awards at Research!Louisville held September 13, 2019:

Norbert J. Burzynski Award Professional Student Category


1st place:  Ankur Patel 

ZEB mRNA Expression is Affected by Long Non-coding RNA ZFAS1

Mentor: Susan Galandiuk


2nd place:  James Burton 

Effect of Long Non-Coding RNA ZFAS1 on Epithelial-To-Mesenchymal Transition Protein Expression in Colorectal Cancer Cell Lines 

Mentor:  Susan Galandiuk


3rd place: Daniel Hodge 

The effects of arylamine N-acetyltransferase 1 on tumor immune response

Mentor: David Hein


Norbert J. Burzynski Award Undergraduate Student Category

1st place:  Grace Lian

Investigating molecules that confer sensitivity to AS1411 in lung adenocarcinoma cells

Mentor: Paula Bates


2nd place:  Kate Tarvestad

Low-Level Chronic Arsenic Exposure and its Effect on the ErbB Family Receptor Tyrosine Kinases.

Mentor:  Brian Ceresa


3rd place:  Destine Ede 

A Potential Novel Treatment for Neurofibromatosis Type 1 via RAS Inhibition 

Mentor: Geoffrey Clark


Pharmacology and Toxicology graduate students receive awards at Research!Louisville

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology graduate students received awards for best research poster presentations at Research!Louisville on September 13, 2019.  

Master’s Basic Science Graduate Student Awards

 1st place:  Jeffrey Warner

“Soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibition: a novel therapeutic strategy in alcoholic liver disease”  

Mentor: Irina Kirpich


2nd place:  Sean Raph

“KVß2 mediates vasodilation in response to redox changes of the NADH:NAD+ ratio.”

Mentor: Matthew Nystoriak.


2nd place:  Angeliki Lykoudi 

“Overexpression of has-miR-186 induces anchorage-independent growth and chromosomal alterations in arsenic exposed human keratinocytes: A preliminary study”

Mentor: J. Christopher States


Doctoral Basic Science Graduate Student Awards

3rd place:  Adrienne Bushau-Sprinkle 

“Mechanistic insight for increased susceptibility to cisplatin nephrotoxicity with NHERF1 loss”. 

Mentor: Eleanor Lederer