Carnegie Mellon University
June 20, 2023

Curci Foundation Grant to Support Tuft Cell Research

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Gut microbes can affect sleep, inflammation and immune responses. Carnegie Mellon University's Zheng Kuang investigates how those cells play an important part in setting the body's circadian rhythms.

Kuang, an assistant professor of biological sciences, joined Carnegie Mellon in 2021. His lab focuses on how the microbiota, an ecosystem of bacteria and cells that live in the intestines, affects when people sleep and wake. Through his research Kuang found that tuft cells, which line the intestines and interact with the microbiota, might be very important to regulating circadian rhythms.

"We have this new idea that circadian and bacterial signals converge in the tuft cells," Kuang said. "Tuft cells sense all kinds of things like food and bacteria and signal the organism. We're trying to understand what is underlying circadian behavior in tuft cells."

Tuft cells are known to be involved in immune response. Atypical tuft cell functioning leads to intestinal inflammation, and it is linked to obesity, food allergies and colon cancer. Kuang received a grant from the Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation to zero in on tuft cells. The grant provides funding for two years.

"I want to zoom into the tuft cells. I really want to visualize the process of how tuft cells are sensing and signaling," Kuang said. "It's exciting for the Curci Foundation to support a new direction our lab is trying to pursue."

To better understand how tuft cells function, Kuang's lab will develop new laboratory and computational techniques to examine the cells under different conditions.

Kuang collaborates with Leon Zhao, an assistant professor of biological sciences, who created a new form of expansion microscopy called Magnify. Magnify uses a hydrogel to increase the size of cells and better examine their inner workings while keeping their functions intact.

Through the Magnify technology, Kuang aims to investigate tuft cells' receptors and how they send signals to other areas of the body. By understanding how tuft cells function and what systems they affect, these cells could be a potential target for future treatments, Kuang said.

The Curci Foundation offers grants to scientific research that creates a healthier and more sustainable future for humans. The organization has provided funding for other biological sciences research at Carnegie Mellon, including the Cai Lab, the Kuhlman Lab and the Hiller Lab.

— Related Content —