Honggang Cui, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and computer science, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which recognizes the highest level of excellence and promise in early-stage scholars.
The five-year, nearly $500,000 grant will support Cui’s work aimed at producing a more effective and targeted way to provide cancer treatment. In his lab, Cui and his team are designing cancer-fighting nano-sized structures that can assemble themselves and deliver treatment to diseased tissue. The current method of delivering anti-cancer medications is to encapsulate them in nanoscale carriers made of natural or synthetic materials. But those carriers sometimes are too small to hold an adequate dose of the drugs, and the materials they are made of can sometimes be toxic and cause side effects.
Cui’s approach would eliminate those separate, non-therapeutic carriers by coaxing the drug molecules themselves to assemble into delivery vessels. His team is devising new molecular engineering strategies to assemble these anti-cancer drugs as “supramolecular nanostructures” – so called because they comprise more than a single molecule. These supramolecules could carry full, fixed doses of anti-cancer drugs.
Kostantinos Konstantopoulos, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, calls the approach “new” and “exciting” and predicts it will have a major impact on the field of drug delivery and even cancer diagnosis.