The KBLEE research group at Rutgers University (https://kblee.rutgers.edu/) is at the forefront of integrating chemical biology, nanotechnology, stem cell biology, and neuroscience. We are dedicated to innovating methodologies that fuse nanotechnology with chemical biology. Our primary aim is to expertly manipulate signaling pathways in stem cells, neural cells, and immune cells, as depicted in Figure 1. This pivotal work helps to decode and direct cell fate within the complex microenvironments of the central nervous system (CNS) [Figure 1]. Our overarching mission is to pioneer novel therapeutic approaches for CNS repair and the fight against neurodegenerative diseases. In a landmark year, 2023, our team has been honored to receive an accumulation of research grants totaling approximately $10 million. These funds have been generously provided by renowned institutions, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research (NJCSCR).

KB Lee Figure 1Our first significant achievement was securing a $2,255,709 grant from the NIH [1R01NS130836-01A1, KiBum Lee (PI), Li Cai & Peng Jiang (Co-Is)]. This collaboration with Professors Li Cai (BME) and Peng Jiang (CBN) focuses on an NIH R01 project. It utilizes our newly developed hybrid stem cell spheroids and nanomaterial-assisted 3D cell culture techniques. The project aims to develop a unique, highly effective, and selective treatment strategy for spinal cord injury (SCI) and other CNS injuries. Our innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize stem cell-based therapies for CNS injuries and can be adapted for various diseases and disorders through targeted treatment.

Our second success was the award of an NIH R21 grant [R21 NS132556-01, $389,793, KiBum Lee (PI)]. This project proposes the development of a bio-inspired nanoparticle-based artificial mitochondrial transcription regulator (MitoScript). This technology platform is poised to be a groundbreaking tool for manipulating mitochondrial genes, offering a promising alternative to current small molecule and viral-based approaches.

In a significant collaboration, the KBLEE group joined forces with Dr. Jae Lee from Miami Medical School and Dr. Nagi Ayad from Georgetown. Together, we acquired a $6 million NIH RM1 interdisciplinary team science grant [RM1 NS133003-01, Jae Lee (Contact PI), KiBum Lee (Co-PI), Nagi Ayad (Co-PI)]. The project, titled "Targeting cell-type specific disease phenotypes to promote CNS repair, "combines expertise from different fields: cancer biology (Dr. Nagi Ayad), nanobiotechnology (Dr. KiBum Lee), and spinal cord injury (Dr. Jae Lee). Our main objective is to develop a novel drug discovery platform utilizing single-cell RNAseq datasets. This platform aims to identify compounds that can reverse specific disease signatures in neural cells/immune cells and use advanced drug delivery systems (DDDs) to target these cells in spinal cord injuries.

The fourth successful grant application resulted in a $1,256,000 award from the DOD [CDMRP- OCRP, OC220235P1, Mi-Hyun Jang (PI), KiBum Lee (multi-PI)]. This research focuses on uncovering the pathological mechanisms behind chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment (CICI) and developing therapeutic strategies to mitigate its effects. Given the high incidence of ovarian cancer among military personnel and veterans, this research is highly relevant to the Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OCRP)'s vision of improving the quality of life for cancer survivors and maintaining defense readiness.

Last, we received a $583,071 grant from the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research [CSCR24IRG005, KiBum Lee (PI), and Jae Lee (Co-I)]. Our proposal has two primary objectives: developing an injectable hydrogel system for controlled drug delivery of lipid nanoparticles (LNP) targeting foamy macrophages at SCI lesion sites, and evaluating the therapeutic effects of Torin-2 in treating SCI using a rodent model. This novel drug delivery system (DDS) can significantly advance targeted therapeutic delivery for CNS injuries.

In short, these grants highlight the KBLEE lab's substantial impact in the field of nanobiotechnology and its potential to revolutionize treatments for CNS injuries, neurological diseases, and cancer-related complications. We are immensely grateful to our collaborators and the hard work of past and current members of the KBLEE group [Figure 2] for these achievements. 

KiBum Lee Figure 2                                                                                                        Figure 2. KBLEE Group (https://kblee.rutgers.edu/)

 A Quantum Leap in CNS Research: KBLEE's Pioneering Fusion of Nanotech and Neuroscience in 2023