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Advancing Medicine, Layer By Layer

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Nisarg J. Shah (left) and Stephen W. Morton collaborate on research to improve bone implants and cancer treatments. Shah holds a 3-D-printed implantable polymer scaffold, while Morton holds a jar of nanoparticles for targeting triple-negative breast cancer cells.(Image Credit: MIT/Denis Paiste/Materials Processing Center)

Personalized cancer treatments and better bone implants could grow from techniques demonstrated by graduate students Stephen W. Morton and Nisarg J. Shah, who are both working in chemical engineering professor Paula Hammond's lab at MIT. Morton's work focuses on developing drug-carrying nanoparticles to target hard-to-treat cancers — such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) — while Shah develops coatings that promote better adhesion for bone implants. Their work shares a materials-based approach that uses layer-by-layer assembly of nanoparticles and coatings. This approach provides controlled release of desirable components from chemotherapy drugs to bone growth factors. Use of natural materials promises to reduce harmful side effects. "We have all of these different areas in which we are seeking to address different problems related to human health, certainly in the context of cancer research which is a very big part of the lab now," Shah says. "In addition to that we are also looking at how we can improve ways in which various patient diseases and injuries are managed in a way that will improve current clinical standards."

However it could take from five to seven years to move from preclinical success in lab animals through human clinical trials to public availability. "Layer-by-layer allows us to introduce very specific materials on the surface of various substrates, be it a nanoparticle, be it an implant, right from the nanoscale to the macroscale," Shah explains. "We were able to introduce all kinds of different properties by depositing very specific materials on substrates, modifying their surface properties and eventually having them do very specific things in the context of applications."