Having lost my grandfather to cancer at a very young age, was one of the main reasons I got interested in my URSP project. I was only 7 years old when my grandfather got diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. As the only viable treatment option his doctors recommended systemic chemotherapy in which the drug is sent all over the body in order to target and destroy the affected cancerous tissue. However, my grandfather’s organs couldn’t hold on to the treatment for very long and we lost him shortly thereafter. Growing up, I always wondered what a good viable alternative to the systemic chemotherapy could be and once I joined the Bioengineering team here at George Mason University, I found out about different research around this topic.
Localized chemotherapy is among successful treatment options recently developed for cancer therapy. With this approach, the chemotherapeutic drug can be locally delivered to the affected cancerous tissue and released on demand via implantable drug loaded devices. These devices are mainly composed of a thermosensitive hydrogel embedding certain dosage of chemotherapeutic drug and photosensitive nanoparticles. Once the hydrogel receives enough heat energy from noninvasive energy sources such as laser and ultrasound, it contracts and release the drug embedded in it. Photosensitive nanoparticles can accelerate this heating process, by absorbing light energy that is tuned to their wavelengths and transforming that as heat energy into the hydrogel.
My biggest challenge in this project was optimizing the hydrogel fabrication process. Since each hydrogel fabrication attempt takes 3 days, I work in the lab few consecutive days every week to develop my hydrogel and find out the optimal drug load concentration. Along this project, I learned to design some 3-D mold structures for my implantable device made of PDMS. While there is still a great deal of work needs to be done for this project, I feel honored to have played small part in developing new treatment options for cancer patient. Cancer treatment research has been my long-time interest and I am planning to continue this research for my graduate studies.