Levi Wood Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Levi Wood has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research project entitled “Closing the Loop on Neuroinflammation.”

Levi Wood, assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research project entitled “Closing the Loop on Neuroinflammation.”

The CAREER Award is one of the NSF’s most prestigious honors in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

The award will provide five years of funding to support Wood’s research to create and use engineering methods to elucidate mechanisms driving brain immune function and to actively regulate these mechanisms to reduce immune-based injury and promote brain health.

“This project combines my passions for dynamic systems and control engineering and biology of the brain’s immune system to create an entirely new way of conceptualizing and treating neurological diseases. I am excited by its potential to impact many diseases,” said Wood.

The brain’s immune system is critical for maintaining brain health and cognitive function. Neuroinflammation is responsible for clearing pathogens and supporting neuron health. However, when neuroinflammation goes out-of-control it can contribute to permanent or progressive cognitive loss in brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other neurological conditions. Treatment of these diverse diseases will benefit from better understanding of how to regain control of healthy neuroimmune response, which is a dynamic process that requires first a pro- followed by an anti-inflammatory response. The focus of Wood’s CAREER project is microglia, which are the main immune cells of the brain that dynamically respond to pro- and anti-inflammatory stimuli.

The novel engineering approach will provide new fundamental knowledge on the dynamics of brain immune cells and the relationship between these dynamics and their function to clear pathogens. Furthermore, it will enable design of treatments that will promote healthy brain immune function.

Wood will also integrate his research activities with a strong educational outreach program to teach underprivileged elementary school students about the immune system. Planned activities include developing a summer camp on engineering and biological science, generating STEM-related materials that can be used throughout the school year, and assessing students’ grades and interest in engineering and science to close the loop on stimulating student interests in science and engineering. 

“My goal is to open the minds of these students to thinking and working as both engineers and scientists and to foster their interest and aspiration to work in STEM fields,” said Wood.

Wood joined Georgia Tech as an assistant professor in August, 2015. Prior to his current appointment, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. There he used systems biology to elucidate novel signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease and intestinal inflammation. Wood received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he developed and used a microfluidic platform to identify mechanisms governing blood vessel growth patterns, critical to tissue engineering. Wood’s research focuses on applying systems analysis approaches and engineering tools to identify novel clinical therapeutic targets for neuroinflammatory diseases.