San Diego, CA, July 24, 2014 -- University of California, San Diego nanoengineering professor Liangfang Zhang has received the AIChE Allan P. Colburn Award for Excellence in Publications by a Young Member of the Institute, which recognizes significant contributions to chemical engineering by researchers under 36. Zhang is being recognized for “outstanding contributions to biomimetic nanomaterials for drug delivery to improve the treatments of cancers and infectious diseases.”
Zhang’s lab is focused on developing novel methods of coating synthetic nanoparticles in natural cell membranes to hide them from the immune system so they have time to deliver cancer-fighting drugs or inoculate the body from infection and disease.
Figure caption:Phase contrast microscopy shows T-cells (small spheres) surrounding a dendritic cell (large sphere) that has been activated by cancer cell membrane-coated nanoparticles. Dendritic cells, which have tree-like branches, capture antigens carried by the cancer cell membrane and share that information with T-cells, inducing the body’s immune response against the original cancer.
The award, which the American Institute of Chemical Engineers has bestowed on one young professor each year since 1945, is a significant honor in the field of chemical engineering. Zhang will be honored at the AIChE annual conference in Atlanta in November.Last year, MIT Technology Review named Zhang among the top young innovators under 35 in its annual TR35 list.
Most recently, the Zhang lab demonstrated that nanoparticles wrapped in the membranes of cancer cells could trigger an anti-cancer immune response. Such a unique cancer vaccine could potentially reactivate a cancer patient’s immune system to fight against the disease. The reported cancer cell membrane-coated nanoparticles, published in the April 9 issue of the journal Nano Letters, also benefit from a natural stickiness in cancer cell membranes that enables cancer cells to spread, or metastasize, through the body because of surface adhesion molecules that help cancer cells bind to other cells around them.Zhang saidthis natural stickiness could enable a coated nanoparticle stuffed with cancer fighting drugs to target tumors directly.
Zhang’s team has used the same cloaking method to demonstrate a nanosponge capable of safely removing a broad class of dangerous toxins from the bloodstream – including toxins produced by MRSA, E. coli, poisonous snakes and bees. The nanosponge could also serve as a safe and effective vaccine against a dangerous pore-forming toxin produced by MRSA. Zhang’s research is partially supported by the National Science Foundation (#1216461). NSF’s Science Nation recently produced a news report on the nanosponge decoy.