Howard University Chemical Engineering Professor Awarded $500K NSF Grant for Research on Biological Surfaces and Pathogens

Preethi Chandran

WASHINGTON – Howard University chemical engineering associate professor and Director of Graduate Studies Preethi Chandran, Ph.D., has received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation through the Excellence in Research (EiR) program to study the biophysics of the shield of sugars, or glycans, that typically can shield pathogens.

 “One may think of the sugars found in glycan shields as gooey, sticky stuff that coats cells,” Chandran says. “Our goal is to find the order in the gooey-ness so we can predict where a pathogen like SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes CoVID-19, would stick to itself or to mucus, or if it would just slip past the scouts of the immune system and therapeutics as well,” explains Chandran.

By deconstructing how the glycan shield protects pathogens, scientists can design strategies to breach the shield so that a broad spectrum of pathogens can be made vulnerable to detection, sanitizing, and treatment, Chandran says.

Chandran is the co-lead investigator on the research project with Sergei Nekhai, Ph.D. Howard University Center for Sickle Cell Disease deputy director and professor of biochemistry. The research will incorporate a team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers. An important objective is to discover holistic and economical approaches to combat the onset of infections. Ultimately, Chandran aims to develop new methods to study the interfacial dynamics of biomolecular surfaces and assemblies and to redirect naturally occurring biological interactions for a wide range of scientific applications.

“Awards granted by the EiR program at NSF encourage and support potentially transformative research by outstanding scientists and researchers at HBCUs,” says Interim Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering Patrick Ymele-Leki, Ph.D. “Our department is very fortunate to currently work on four separate projects supported by these highly competitive awards, and we are proud of the work done by Dr. Chandran and her colleagues to receive these grants.”

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 11 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit

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