D Peng - Research Update

I realized I haven't written about my research yet, so here's an update. I work in the Functional Nanosystems (FNS) group at imec, a group of very friendly graduate/postdoctoral students.

Scientists at imec have been interested in inorganic nanoparticles, namely gold and iron oxide particles, for the application of hyperthermia therapy of cancer. Gold nanoparticles can be optically heated because they have a surface plasmon resonance. These particles can be adjusted to absorb near infrared (NIR) light, which provides penetration through tissue with minimal absorption by hemoglobin and water, allowing for selective photothermal therapy of cancer. Similarly, superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles can be remotely heated using an alternating magnetic field. These particles have further potential in that magnetic fields can penetrate deeper in vivo than near infrared light, and can also be imaged using magnetic resonance.

MDA-231 are triple negative human cancer cells with no effective treatment, which motivates this collaboration between Green's lab and imec to develop a local, controllable drug delivery system for dual cancer therapy by encapsulating these particles in thermo-sensitive polymer gels. Poly(ester amine)s are promising drug delivery vehicles due to their degradability and can serve as reservoirs for delivery of encapsulated drugs, sensors, or inorganic particles. Diacrylate-terminated poly(ester amine)s can be UV-crosslinked using acrylate-functionalized monomers and oligomers (PEG-diacrylate) and a photoinitiator to form polymer gels.

I've been synthesizing gels and characterizing them for their mechanical and retention/release properties. I've also been testing the inorganic nanoparticles with their respective hyperthermia set-ups, and synthesizing gels with particles inside. So far, I've been able to demonstrate that a gels with encapsulated inorganic nanoparticles can heat up to 16C, which is very promising for triggering drug release.

Experimenting with the laser-hyperthermia set up has been especially interesting. Powering on the system will turn on a sign saying "Verboden Toegang Laserstraling," to warn other scientists that the Class IV laser is on. I also have to close black curtains around the set-up to prevent any exposure to the rest of the lab. Here's a picture!

Curtains enclosing the laser-hyperthermia set up

It's also been a really great experience being able to meet imec employees who work in the different labs. In Biolab 1, I use DLS and do all my chemical experiments. In Biolab 3, I do dark field imaging, use the UV-Vis spectrometer, and the magnetic hyperthermia set-up. In the Convergence lab, I use the laser hyperthermia set-up. In the Neuro-Electronics lab, I use the plate reader and will do tissue culture as my project reaches its final stages. Finally, in the Remo lab, I do all my UV-crosslinking. It's been nice that imec's resources have fit so well with my project.

I will be giving my second presentation to the FNS group this coming week. An interesting story from my first presentation a couple weeks ago: 20 minutes into the powerpoint, two of the scientists started a discussion about a detail in my presentation. As the discussion got heated, they both switched from English to Dutch for more natural fluency. As the only non-Dutch speaker at the front of the room, this became a bit awkward for me for the following 15 minutes. We laughed it off later on.

Aside from this project, I've also been busy writing paper drafts for my characterization research back in Dr. Green's lab, organizing and preparing for this year's annual Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference in Hartford, discussing and having Google+ "hangouts" (video chats) with my upcoming design team, and attempting to study for the GRE.

I've been happy with my overall experience at imec so far - it's been enriching both culturally and academically. I'll try to update more before the internship ends!

D. Peng

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