Areas of Expertise (8)
Dr. Elmer leads the Drug Discovery and Development Laboratory at Villanova College of Engineering, which performs research in two major areas: Genetic Engineering and the development of Blood Substitutes.
Decades of research have yielded several vehicles that can efficiently deliver genes to human cells (e.g. viruses, lipids, polymers), but most transgenes are recognized as foreign and quickly silenced after they reach the nucleus. Dr. Elmer’s research focuses on enhancing and prolonging transgene expression to make gene therapy more effective - specifically, enhancing gene expression inside T cells, which can then be genetically reprogrammed and used to target and eradicate leukemia cells.
A shortage in human blood donations is a serious and life-threatening issue that plagues developing countries, battlefields and healthcare facilities alike. Professor Elmer’s research is focused on finding a universal donor “blood substitute” that is safe, stable for long periods of time, and is an effective oxygen carrier. His research is currently focused on developing invertebrate hemoglobins as novel blood substitutes.
Ohio State University: PhD
University of Missouri: BS
Dual BS degrees in Biochemical Engineering and Biological Sciences
Select Media Appearances (1)
Villanova professor sees earthworms as hope for human blood substitute
Philly Voice online
A Villanova University chemical engineering professor, seeking to find an alternative source for human blood in unconventional emergencies, believes he may have identified an underground candidate: earthworms.
Research Grants (4)
CAREER: Manipulating the Innate Immune Response to Improve Gene Therapy
National Science Foundation $500,000
Evaluation of Invertebrate Hemoglobins as Effective, Safe, and Ultra-Stable Blood Substitutes
National Institutes of Health $432,392
Biomanufacturing: Optimizing the Isolation, Transfection, and Expansion of CAR-T cells with Modified PES Membranes
National Science Foundation $299,999
Manipulating Epigenetic Mechanisms to Enhance Non-Viral Transgene Expression
National Science Foundation $174,000
Select Academic Articles (4)
Elmer JJ, Christensen MD, Barua S, Lehrman J, Haynes KA, Rege K
Eukaryotic cells maintain an immense amount of genetic information by tightly wrapping their DNA around positively charged histones. While this strategy allows human cells to maintain more than 25,000 genes, histone binding can also block gene expression. Consequently, cells express histone acetyl transferases (HATs) to acetylate histone lysines and release DNA for transcription. Conversely, histone deacetylases (HDACs) are employed for restoring the positive charge on the histones, thereby silencing gene expression by increasing histone-DNA binding. It has previously been shown that histones bind and silence viral DNA, while hyperacetylation of histones via HDAC inhibition restores viral gene expression. In this study, we demonstrate that treatment with Entinostat, an HDAC inhibitor, enhances transgene (luciferase) expression by up to 25-fold in human prostate and murine bladder cancer cell lines when used with cationic polymers for plasmid DNA delivery. Entinostat treatment altered cell cycle progression, resulting in a significant increase in the fraction of cells present in the G0/G1 phase at low micromolar concentrations.
Muzzelo C, Neely C, Shah P, Abdulmalik O, Elmer J.
Limitations associated with the storage of red blood cells have motivated the development of novel blood substitutes that are able to withstand long-term storage at elevated temperatures. The hemoglobin of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris (LtEc) is an attractive blood substitute candidate, since it is resistant to oxidation and aggregation during storage. Several factors were investigated to optimize the thermal and oxidative stability of LtEc during storage, including pH, antioxidant supplements, and deoxygenation. A strategy for the reduction of fully oxidized LtEc with antioxidants was also developed.
Elmer, J., Zorc, K., Rameez, S., Zhou, Y., Cabrales, P., & Palmer, A. F.
BACKGROUND: The hemoglobin of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris (also known as erythrocruorin, or LtEc) is a naturally occurring high-molecular-weight protein assembly (3.6 MDa) that is extremely stable, resistant to oxidation, and transports oxygen similarly to human whole blood. Therefore, LtEc may serve as an alternative to donated human red blood cells. However, a suitable purification process must be developed to produce highly pure LtEc on a large scale that can be evaluated in an animal model to determine the safety and efficacy of LtEc...
Elmer, J., Buehler, P. W., Jia, Y., Wood, F., Harris, D. R., Alayash, A. I., & Palmer, A. F.
Hemoglobin (Hb) that is purified from red blood cells (RBCs) is commonly subjected to harsh processing conditions, such as high temperatures and extensive column separation, which may damage the Hb by altering the heme prosthetic group and/or the Hb protein structure. In this study, bovine and human Hb purified by tangential flow filtration (TFF) was compared to commercial preparations of human Hb (Hemosol, Inc., Toronto, Canada) and bovine Hb (Biopure, Inc., Cambridge, MA). Purified Hbs were characterized by measuring their overall purity (SDS–PAGE, SEC, and ESI-MS), susceptibility to oxidation (kox), responses to physiological conditions (pH, [Cl−], [IHP], and T), and ligand binding kinetics (O2, NO, and CO)...