Chemical Engineering Professor Awarded Grant to Improve Gene Therapy Treatments

Jacob Elmer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering
Jacob Elmer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering

Jacob Elmer, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been awarded a three-year $174,000 grant through the Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering Program in the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems Division of the National Science Foundation. The title of the grant is "Manipulating Epigenetic Mechanisms to Enhance Non-Viral Transgene Expression," and the overarching goal of the project is to improve gene therapy treatments. 

Dr. Elmer explains the basis for his research, “While we have gotten very good at delivering genes into cells to treat genetic diseases like cancer, we are now finding out that cells have many different ways to prevent foreign genes from expressing—a regulation process called epigenetics.” With this grant, Dr. Elmer and two collaborators from Arizona State University are focused on trying to modify the regulation process such that, instead of turning off therapeutic genes, they will turn them on at high levels. As an expert in genetic engineering, Dr. Elmer’s specific part in the project is to make the bacterial DNA that is used for gene therapy look more like a human chromosome, thereby preventing negative epigenetic responses that turn off the foreign genes.

Dr. Elmer joined Villanova University College of Engineering in 2012 and teaches courses in Heat Transfer, Freshman Engineering Design, and Chemical Engineering Research. In spring 2014, he introduced a course in BioEngineering Lab Techniques, which provides students with an opportunity to practice many of the concepts and techniques they learn in biochemical engineering, biology and chemistry courses. He also is a faculty member in the College’s newly launched Biochemical Engineering graduate program.