Into the Lab: Chemical

Allan David, John W. Brown assistant professor in chemical engineering, is conducting research in “smart nanomaterials,” nanoparticles and nanocomposites that respond to changes in their environment. While David will explore a wide array of applications for “smart nanomaterials,” his primary focus will be biomedicine. One project, for example, will utilize multimodal imaging agents to improve cancer diagnostics.

Using nanoparticles with a controlled shape, size and composition, David is developing injectable materials that seek out cancer cells, recognize the presence of biologically active markers and identify the cancer’s rate of growth. By using diagnostic tools such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, or a PET scan, practitioners can observe the nanoparticles and study signal responses to analyze the aggressiveness of various cancers, such as brain and prostate cancer, as well as how to effectively treat them.

“In some cases, such as with brain tumors or prostate cancer, patients are told to ‘wait and see’ because no effective therapies are available and the risk of side-effects is greater than the benefits of therapy,” says David. “If we could non-invasively measure whether the cancer is aggressive or indolent, a more effective and personalized therapeutic regimen can be designed for each patient.”

While nanoparticles are not new, David’s research explores making an impact in their application. His project will focus on developing nanoparticles and targeting them to specific cancers, making them sensitive to tumor-specific processes, and then evaluating their safety and efficacy.

“We have these materials, but they’re not really in a form that’s easily translated to the clinic,” says David.

He will be collaborating with faculty members Robert Arnold and David Riese in Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy and Valery Petrenko in the College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as Engineering Dean Christopher Roberts and MRI Center Director Thomas Denney.

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