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Kristy Ainslie, Ph.D.

The National Institutes of Health awarded a grant of nearly $2 million to Kristy Ainslie, Ph.D., for a proposal to develop a therapeutic vaccine for multiple sclerosis.

Ainslie is an associate professor in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, as well as an adjunct associate professor in the UNC Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

She said the project’s long-term goal is to design a biodegradable, tunable particle system to serve as a therapeutic vaccine to alleviate multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that affects 400,000 Americans. The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, and it has no cure. Current therapies have limited effectiveness and often result in serious side effects due to immune system suppression, including increased risk of severe infections, secondary autoimmune diseases, and liver and cardiac toxicity.

“Systemic immune suppression and resultant side effects are major barriers for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, and new treatment methods are needed,” Ainslie said.

The vaccine Ainslie hopes to develop will incorporate rapamycin and an autoimmune antigen into particles that will target dendritic cells.

The NIH grant is for five years and a total of $1.89 million. Ainslie’s co-investigators on the project are Eric Bachelder, Ph.D., at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy; Mireia Guerau-de-Arellano, Pharm.D., Ph.D., of the Ohio State University; and Silva Markovic-Plese, M.D., Ph.D., of Thomas Jefferson University.

Ainslie joined the School in 2014, after nearly five years as an assistant professor at the Ohio State University. Her lab focuses on the development of new polymers for vaccines, formulation of antigen specific therapies to treat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, host-directed therapies for treatment of multi-drug resistant infections, electrospun scaffolds for glioblastoma treatment, and electrospray for fabrication of immune targeting microparticles.

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