News Release: SUNY Poly Prof. Sharfstein Awarded $125,000 from The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals for Development of Bioreactor to Culture Immune Cells

News Release: SUNY Poly Prof. Sharfstein Awarded $125,000 from The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals for Development of Bioreactor to Culture Immune Cells

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 09:16
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Dr. Susan Sharfstein

For Release:           Immediate – October 13, 2021
Contact:                  Steve Ference, Director of University Communications | (518) 429-7742 |

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ALBANY, NY – SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) announced today that Professor of Nanobioscience Dr. Susan Sharfstein is receiving $125,000* in new funding from The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), to support a novel, wicking matrix bioreactor (WMB) for automated expansion and recovery of hematopoietic cells for therapeutic applications, including immuno-oncology, which seeks to use immune cells to target cancers.

One of the critical challenges in immuno-oncology is the manufacturing of these immune cells. A bioreactor specifically designed for culturing immune cells (including T-cells and natural killer cells) with high levels of expansion without changes in cell behavior, could, if successful, lead to the technology being widely used by biopharmaceutical companies to advance their development programs and inspire new approaches to treat cancer.

Funding provided by NIIMBL, which is supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a number of biopharmaceutical companies, will continue an ongoing collaboration with Sepragen, and SUNY Poly Professors of Nanobioscience Dr. Yubing Xie and Dr. Robert Brainard, drawing in researchers from Merck and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. The funding will provide opportunities for a SUNY Poly postdoc and graduate student, as well as an undergraduate, to gain hands-on laboratory experience.

“I am proud to congratulate Drs. Sharfstein, Xie, and Brainard, as well as their partners for this NIIMBL grant which provides yet another testament to the state-of-the-art, boundary-pushing research capabilities that SUNY Poly is known for, which provide fertile ground for exciting academic-industrial collaborations, along with experiential student learning opportunities, such as these that are focused on the impactful targeting of cancers by immune cells,” said Interim Dean of SUNY Poly’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Dr. André Melendez.

“I am grateful to have received this award from NIIMBL, and am also thankful for the previous support from the National Science Foundation, as well as my collaboration with Professors Xie and Brainard, along with Genentech and Merck, and Sepragen which has developed this exciting technology,” said Dr. Sharfstein. “Working with Sepragen for a number of years, we are thrilled to be the nexus for helping to find the best application for this pioneering innovation. It is exciting to be working with major biopharmaceutical companies bringing this capability to fruition, providing student research opportunities along the way as we look to realize the development of life-saving therapeutics.”

“This latest award is a testament to the strong partnership we have with SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and we look forward to the continued benefit from research utilizing the novel bioreactor that we developed, which can potentially lead to more impactful cancer treatments,” said Vinit Saxena, CEO and Chief Technology Officer of Sepragen.

More specifically, the wicking matrix bioreactor will be used for proof of principle experiments by employing Jurkat cells as a model T cell line to demonstrate 50-fold expansion in the WMB with greater than 90% recovery and at least 90% viability. Novel cell removal strategies will be employed, which could include heat-responsive polymers to reduce cell damage upon removal from the matrix. The team will also develop an automation and control system and demonstrate similar results for Jurkat cell culture in this automated, closed system. Finally, the effort will transition to an end-user environment and demonstrate the utility of the WMB system for expansion and recovery of edited primary hematopoietic cells with high recovery rates but no change in cellular phenotype, which would make this a highly effective way to culture cells for use in therapeutics.

This research effort builds on several Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants between SUNY Poly and Sepragen, which have focused on applications of the novel bioreactor as developed by Sepragen, including one award that resulted in the publication of the article, Insulin production from hiPSC-derived pancreatic cells in a novel wicking matrix bioreactor,” in Biotechnology and Bioengineering. The SBIR/STTR program encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal R&D and the possibility of commercialization.


About SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly)
SUNY Poly is New York’s globally recognized, high-tech educational ecosystem. SUNY Poly offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the emerging disciplines of nanoscience and nanoengineering, as well as cutting-edge nanobioscience programs at its Albany campus, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology, including engineering, cybersecurity, computer science, and the engineering technologies; professional studies, including business, communication, and nursing; and arts and sciences, including natural sciences, mathematics, humanities, and social sciences at its Utica campus; thriving athletic, recreational, and cultural programs, events, and activities complement the campus experience. As the world’s most advanced, university-driven research enterprise, SUNY Poly boasts billions of dollars in high-tech investments and hundreds of corporate partners since its inception. For information visit


This work is performed under financial assistance award 70NANB17H002 from the U. S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology.


*All funding is subject to project agreement negotiations.