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K-State biologist receives $1.87M grant to explore cell interactions that fight inflammatory diseases

Monday, July 8, 2024



MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University biologist has received a grant to study how immune cells and sensory neurons affect tissue inflammation — work that could lead to improved methods of treating inflammatory diseases.

Pankaj Baral, assistant professor in the Division of Biology, has been awarded a $1.87 million Maximizing Investigators' Research Award, or MIRA, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Baral's research will investigate how sensory neurons and tissue-resident immune cells interact and influence tissue inflammation. Neurons, or nerve cells, sense the world around us and mediate protective responses for organismic defense. The nervous system is typically viewed as the connection between the body and the brain. By contrast, immune cells are guardian cells that fight infections and injuries and help resolve inflammation after infection or tissue injury. Baral's lab investigates how neurons, like immune cells, also actively play a role in regulating inflammation and tissue repair.

"Our nervous and immune systems co-develop from an early stage of life. Their bidirectional interactions are critical for tissue homeostasis and intersystem communication," Baral said. "But knowledge is limited regarding their crosstalk and potential impact in inflammation and injury."

Research under Baral's MIRA award will address knowledge gaps about the role of neuron-immune cell interactions in tissue inflammation and repair. By targeting these interactions, this work will ultimately improve our ability to develop therapeutics against inflammatory diseases.

"This work represents exciting new territory in neuroimmunology research," said Mark Ungerer, director of the Division of Biology. "New insights gained from Dr. Baral's program may significantly impact and broaden treatment possibilities for a variety of adverse health conditions."

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Pankaj Baral, assistant professor in the Division of Biology. | Download this photo.

Written by

Mark Ungerer