Department of Homeland Security Summer Research Team focuses on biodegradable nanoparticles
Several months ago, Kayla Bailey, like many fellow undergraduates, felt uncertain about her career path. After a summer researching nanoparticles alongside Matthewos Eshete, Ph.D., Bailey feels renewed appreciation not only for her chosen major of chemistry, but also for science as a whole. The research Bailey and Eshete conducted, after all, could save lives.
Bailey, a junior in chemistry at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU), and Eshete, an associate professor of chemistry at MVSU, were recent participants in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team (SRT) Program for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS.
This program provides faculty and student research teams the opportunity to conduct research at the university-based DHS Centers of Excellence (DHS Centers). The SRT Program and DHS Centers are sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs.
At the Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases at Kansas State University, Bailey and Eshete researched biodegradable nanoparticles (BNPs) to better understand these nanoparticles’ binding interactions with proteins in the body. They researched under assistant professors Seong-O Choi, Ph.D, and Santosh Aryal, Ph.D., at the newly established Nanotechnology Innovation Center of Kansas State.
Nanoparticles possess enhanced or altered physical, chemical and biological properties that make them superior in different applications to standard particles. This superiority has led to a dramatic increase in their use for vaccines, drug delivery systems, environmental remediation and antimicrobial protection. Sometimes a body’s immune system can send proteins that interfere with nanoparticles and ultimately hinder the nanoparticles’ roles.
Eshete and Bailey hoped to decrease the incidence of ineffective binding interactions by investigating how surface modifications of BNPs affected these interactions. They conducted their research on Polylactic-co-glycolic acid, or PLGA, a biodegradable nanoparticle already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use in various arenas of biomedical applications.
“Our investigation will not only have great potential to advance knowledge in the molecular level interaction of BNPs with proteins of the immune system, but it will also have a profound effect in the arena of production and design of nanotechnology-based drug delivery products and medical devices,” said Eshete, the team lead.
Under the guidance of Eshete, Bailey spent her days preparing samples of nanoparticles at different concentrations, which she then infused with proteins. To determine how well each sample bonded to the protein, Bailey used an instrument called fluorescence spectrometry to measure the amount of fluorescence emitted as the nanoparticle sample bonded to the protein. A decrease in fluorescence emission by the protein indicated a favorable binding.
By the end of the summer, Bailey and Eshete determined the proteins exhibited different binding properties when binding to the modified BNPs, indicating the significance of surface modifications for drug delivery applications.
Eshete and Bailey spent many long days at the lab, an aspect of the research Bailey found both challenging and insightful.
“Some days seemed to go on forever no matter how much work you completed,” said Bailey. “I’ve now realized that major research is never as simple as conducting several experiments over the course of a few days to come up with an answer to a central question. In some cases, it can take years to come up with useful results, and in some instances, the results are not what you expect or as groundbreaking as you might have figured.”
Eshete agreed. “In research, some days the experiments do not give meaningful results, and you have to ask your team member to repeat the experiment again and again,” he said. “But when your team member finally gets a reading that makes sense, the smile on his or her face is priceless.”
Eshete believes the DHS SRT Program was extremely rewarding for both him and Bailey.
“The experience strengthened my desire to motivate students, especially underrepresented minority students, to become key participants in science and technology,” said Eshete, who is continuing research on the project at MVSU through a collaborative partnership he formed with Kansas State.
Bailey learned a wealth of new information on nanoparticles, proteins, and scientific procedures. “This was my first research experience and it was a total learning experience—a positive one. I would recommend it to other individuals pursuing a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math field and would remind them to keep an open mind,” said Bailey, who now plans to pursue a career in cosmetic science. “Before this research experience, I was uncertain about my future career plans; because of this opportunity, I have decided I want to pursue a scientific career.”
The DHS SRT Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE administers this program through an interagency agreement between DOE and DHS. ORISE is managed by ORAU for DOE.