A team of researchers from UCF, along with collaborators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have reported an important research finding that opens doors to advances in biomedical research.

The research appears in the September 9 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The team’s paper is the first by researchers from the College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) at UCF to be published in the prestigious PNAS journal, one of the world’s most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serials.

The study, led by Ayman Abouraddy, an assistant professor from CREOL, builds upon a technique discovered last year to produce uniformly-sized polymeric particles.

Polymeric particles, whether at the micro or nanoscale, play an important role in medical diagnostics and therapeutics, since they can serve as beacons for detecting pathogens or as vessels to transport drugs. Many approaches have been developed by researchers to produce such particles; however the utility of each technique is typically limited to specific materials and therefore produces particles with particular sizes and structures.

In the methodology used by Abouraddy and his team, polymeric particles from a wide range of substances are produced with complex internal architectures and continuously changeable sizes. Controllable access to such a wide range of sizes enables broad applications in cancer treatment, immunology and vaccines. With a tumor, for example, no single nanoparticle size can reach all areas.

According to Joshua Kaufman, a Ph.D. student at CREOL and the lead author on this paper, “The exciting thing about this work is that we have been able to take our original breakthrough in particle fabrication and extend it into a new range of materials that are useful in biological and medical applications.”

Using heat and a “stack-and-draw” process, Abouraddy and his team can produce cable-like fibers containing multiple round cores made with the polymer of choice all encased in a cladding made of another polymer.

“Our finding builds on a well-known phenomenon seen every day,” said Abouraddy. “Think about what happens when you shut off a faucet. The process occurs when the two opposing forces compete: one wants the water to continue as a jet, and the other wants the water to break into droplets.”

Biological application of Abouraddy’s discovery was conducted in Ratna Chakrabarti’s laboratory at the UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. According to Chakrabarti, an associate professor for the school, the research promises significant future applications in biomedical science, specifically cancer treatment and disease recognition.

“A major problem these days is the inability to specifically target cancer cells, said Chakrabarti. “The advantage of this methodology is that it is polymer-independent and allows for the fabrication of a hollow or solid core. The significance of this is that the polymeric particles can be conjugated with antibodies or proteins for specific recognition of a certain type of cancer cells in the body. Also, the shell can be made of a biodegradable polymer, and the hollow core can be filled with a particular drug. This way the particles could target and deliver drugs specifically to the cancer cells without disturbing normal cells.”

“Control of how the particles are made is the whole key,” said Richard Ottman, a Ph.D. candidate working under supervision of Chakrabarti. “With this approach, there’s one standard protocol to make the particles, but freedom to use any polymer. The ability to harness and control the substance used has profound applications.”

The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, a grant by the National Institutes of Health Shared Instrument; and, in part, by the Materials Research Science and Engineering Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The team’s research appears in the September 9 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). To read the paper, click here.