2010 Jorge Heller Postdoctoral Fellowship Year Reflections
Qun Wang, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Langer Laboratory
Harvard–MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Harvard Medical School
Reflections from the Fellowship Year
In 2005, I entered the Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering at the University of Kansas as a Ph.D. student. I chose Dr. Cory Berkland, a joint professor in the Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering and the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry as my advisor. I believe that a different but related discipline can help expand my academic knowledge and analytical skills and enable me to apply the theoretical methodology to a broader practice. The multidiscipline background can make me fit and manage different projects easily. It turns out that I have made a right choice.
Under the guidance of Dr. Berkland, my research focused on the interface of engineering and pharmaceutics. I have developed solid skills and knowledge in the areas of polymer science and engineering, drug delivery systems, biomaterials, and nanotechnology and have built a breadth of analytical skills to characterize materials. I have created many materials for drug delivery systems, including drug-loaded films, fibers, self-assembling colloids, gels, and nano- and microparticles. I have published 19 papers in well-known referred journals and hold six patents in the United States and China.
In 2010, before my graduation, I was very lucky to receive the precious Jorge Heller Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Controlled Release Society (CRS) Foundation. CRS is the premier society worldwide for drug delivery science and technology. CRS Foundation fellowships are designed to identify and acknowledge the future leaders of CRS, while honoring individuals who have made notable contributions to the society and delivery technologies. It’s my great honor to receive this award. I have a passion for doing research and I want to pursue my career in academia. With this fellowship, I plan to get top-level training for my future career in a top-level school during my postdoctoral period, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Medical School.
Using Intestinal Stem Cells to Treat Colorectal Cancer Through Regenerative Medicine
So I contacted Prof. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, whose lab is the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world. He entrusted me with a leading role in a very challenging project to use intestinal stem cells to treat colorectal cancer through regenerative medicine. The intestine can be thought of as both a catalytic and absorptive surface where most of the chemical digestion and nutrient absorption in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract takes place. The mucosa is composed of a monolayer of epithelium organized into circular folds and further organized into crypts and finger-like projections known as villi. This combination of macroscale and microscale patterning increases the surface area of the small intestine 600-fold over that of a cylindrical tube of the same diameter.
Cancer is a major healthcare issue for many countries around the world, including the United States. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Worldwide, more than one million cases of colorectal cancer are clinically diagnosed annually and more than half of those who are diagnosed die every year. The current treatments, such as intestinal transplantation and chemotherapy, are limited by a lack of donors, a high degree of implant failure, massive side effects, and the need for heavy immunosuppression.
Regenerative medicine seeks to replace or facilitate the regeneration of damaged or diseased tissue by applying a biomaterial support system or scaffold, or a combination of cells and bioactive molecules. The fundamental principle of regenerative medicine is that the engineered biomaterials can facilitate regeneration of structures that resemble the original tissue and organ. Drug delivery and regenerative medicine are closely related fields. Actually, regenerative medicine can be recognized as a special case of drug delivery since the goal of regenerative medicine is to accomplish accurate controlled delivery of cells and tissue. Controlled release of therapeutic factors has been shown to promote the regeneration of tissue. From the point of view of material science, both drug delivery systems and tissue engineering scaffolds should be biocompatible and biodegradable. The medical functions of encapsulated drugs and cells could be dramatically improved by designing materials with controlled structures at the appropriate scale. Intestinal tissue engineering is a systemic research that requires combined knowledge from different areas. My multidisciplinary background makes me fit the project very well.
Significance of Research
In the Langer lab, my research is the first to target topical delivery of intestinal stem cells to the damaged site of the intestine to treat colorectal cancer. Significantly, intestinal stem cells have the fascinating ability to efficiently generate all the cell types of intestinal epithelial and heal the damaged or ulceration area of the intestine. Furthermore, with this innovative approach, intestinal stem cells could be acquired from the patient themselves and easily expanded in vitro to avoid heavy immunosuppression. For this groundbreaking method, I created a thin layer of an epithelial patch that could immediately adhere to the intestine surface, especially to the damaged surface when delivered in vivo. The materials used in this patch can support the initial survival and proliferation of the delivered cells and greatly increase the delivery efficiency. Through delivery of cell-encapsulated patches, this original method can achieve rapid regeneration of the epithelial barrier and enable the remission and cure of the disease. The delivery route can be performed easily, thus we expect that this therapeutic strategy can be rapidly translated to clinical use as an effective and convenient therapeutic method for colorectal cancer. Moreover, the stem cell-engineered epithelial patch could provide a platform for high-throughput testing of prospective drugs and inflammatory modulators, which may lead to the development of new drug and therapeutic agents useful for the treatment of patients with other intestinal diseases.
In the future, I will further expand my research in this area. I hope my work could relieve the pain of patients. Actually, we were recently approached by a group at Harvard Medical School to collaborate on a translational research project to adapt our method for clinical use.
The CRS Foundation’s Jorge Heller Postdoctoral Fellowship
was presented to Qun Wang at the 37th Annual Meeting & Exposition of
the Controlled Release Society in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., July 2010.
The research was conducted in 2010 and 2011.
Many thanks to the generous CRS Foundation donors who made this fellowship possible.