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UA professor wins award for building new drug delivery vehicle to improve efficacy while reducing negative side effects

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 7:41 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - They say imitation is the best form of flattery, so our bodies’ red blood cells should take this as a compliment.

An engineer at the University of Arizona is working to develop a drug delivery vehicle that mimic those cells.

Minkyu Kim is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona.

Kim is building a way to break into the body.

The body has an incredible defense system, which is great when it comes to harmful material like viruses, but that same filtration system has created obstacles for doctors and scientists when trying to get a critical foreign body like medicine to a patient.

“This is due to the biological organ filters that we already have such as spleen, kidney, or liver and so on. People have tried many, many different ways but still cannot overcome our really well-designed organ filter,” Kim said.

Kim said the body will filter out a large portion of the drug, sometimes up to 90%.

“Our body recognizes this as a foreign material and starts to remove it because they don’t know if this is good or bad,” Kim said.

Kim said this requires some patients, like those undergoing chemotherapy for example, to be given a substantial amount of a drug to ensure at least some of it survives the body’s filtration system and makes it to its destination.

But pumping your body full of a drug can cause adverse side effects, so Kim and his students are working to find an alternative way to get medicine where it needs to go.

“If this is working like we are proposing, we hope so, then we can reduce the unnecessary amount of drug that we are giving to the patient right now, but still effective. Then this means the side effect from the toxic drug will be reduced significantly,” Kim said.

Kim said biological particles like red blood cells have no problem moving throughout the body. So, he started examining their proteins.

“Those blood cells have a very specific mechanical properties, like reversible stretchability, when they go into a small microcapillary they can stretch themselves out and when they are coming out from there, they come back into their original structures,” Kim said.

Kim is designing a microparticle vehicle that imitates a red blood cell that will act as a vehicle for drug particles and even control the release of the drug, which could improve the efficacy and reduce negative side effects of lifesaving drugs.

This research just earned him the National Science Foundation’s $600-thousand CAREER Award, which is its most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.

Kim said his family could not be more proud.

“They are very happy with that. They are praying every day for me to succeed,” Kim said.

Kim hopes this research will eventually lead to a product available to consumers at an affordable price.

“I want to see this in CVS and maybe if that is available on the shelf people could just purchase this like a vitamin,” Kim said.

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