Qiaobing Xu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in Tufts University School of Engineering, has received a $498,899 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund research into a new way to deliver protein-based cancer-fighting drugs and other therapeutics into cells.
Such an approach would enable drugs to destroy cancerous growth more effectively than existing treatments and target other diseases traditionally considered “undruggable.”
Chemotherapy drugs attack all actively dividing cells—healthy and diseased alike—often causing significant side effects in the patients. New protein-based therapy, such as cytokines, monoclonal antibodies and growth factors, allow for highly targeted treatment. The problem is that, unlike compounds used in chemotherapy, proteins are too large to easily cross the cell membrane to penetrate into the cell cytoplasm. Instead, most of these protein therapies work by targeting specific receptors on the outside surface of diseased cells.
The NSF program supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.
Xu is developing a method way to transport the protein inside the cell safely and efficiently by binding it with a nanoparticle that can cross the cell membrane and, when safely inside, release the protein. In his approach, the protein is first chemically altered to give it a negative charge and then bound to a positively charged nanoparticle composed of lipids. The lipids then pass through the cell membrane, which is naturally negatively charged.