Center for Targeted Therapeutics and Translational Nanomedicine (CT³N)

CT3N in the News

  • A new tool for cell biologists (Virgil Percec)

    Tuesday, May 19, 2020

    Researchers describe a new approach for creating realistic synthetic cells, providing a new tool that can be used to figure out how certain pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2, infect hosts. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a new approach for creating synthetic cell membrane mimics. Using a new approach for “click” chemistry, researchers designed self-organizing nanovesicles that can have their surfaces decorated with similar sugar molecules as viruses, bacteria, or living cells. The result of a collaboration between Penn, Temple University, the Max Planck Institute, the Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, RWTH Aachen University, and Freie Universität Berlin, this work provides a new tool for studying how certain pathogens, such as the novel coronavirus, can evade detection by a host’s immune system.

  • Cavity-causing bacteria assemble an army of protective microbes (Hyun Michel Koo)

    Monday, May 18, 2020

    Taking a translational approach, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and the Georgia Institute of Technology imaged the bacteria that cause tooth decay in three dimensions in their natural environment, the sticky biofilm known as dental plaque formed on toddlers’ teeth that were affected by cavities. The work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Streptococcus mutans, a major bacterial species responsible for tooth decay, is encased in a protective multilayered community of other bacteria and polymers forming a unique spatial organization associated with the location of the disease onset.

  • Four Penn faculty elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Kathleen Stebe)

    Friday, April 24, 2020

    Four faculty members have been elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Guthrie Ramsey, Kathleen Stebe, Eve M. Troutt Powell, and Barbie Zelizer are among 276 honorees for 2020, recognized for their excellence and accomplishments.

  • Racing to deliver a vaccine to the masses (David Weiner)

    Thursday, April 2, 2020

    Penn, together with The Wistar Institute, have conducted research that is part of the backstory of a variety of successful vaccines. Since the 1950s, their scientists have had a hand in research that undergirds widely used inoculations against polio, rubella, rotavirus, and more. “You could argue that this scientific community has developed more life-saving vaccines than anywhere else on the planet,” says David Weiner, an emeritus professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the executive vice president and director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Wistar, where he also runs an active lab.

  • Targeting Stromal Cells May Help Overcome Treatment Resistance in Glioblastoma (Yi Fan)

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020

    The deadly brain cancer glioblastoma (GBM) is often resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, but new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center shows targeting stromal cells – the cells that serve as the connective tissue of the organs – may be an effective way of overcoming that resistance. Specifically, the researchers found that GBM causes these stromal cells to act like stem cells, naturally resisting attempts to kill them and promoting tumor growth instead. They also identified the pathway that makes this all possible and showed that blocking that pathway makes cancer vulnerable in a lab setting. Science Translational Medicine published the findings today.

  • A promising new strategy to help broken bones heal faster (Henry Daniell)

    Friday, February 21, 2020

    To improve how broken bones heal in people with diabetes, the School of Dental Medicine’s Henry Daniell, Sheri Yang, and colleagues are leading work to develop an affordable oral therapy—grown in plants. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of fracturing a bone than the general population. And if they do break one it also takes longer than normal to heal. In the March issue of Biomaterials, Henry Daniell, Shuying (Sheri) Yang, and colleagues at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine share promising findings from an animal model in which a plant-grown protein drug sped healing of a bone fracture. The work, which used the protein insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), showed that an orally delivered, shelf-stable medication grown in lettuce plants could stimulate the growth of bone-building cells and promote bone regeneration.

  • Advancing an oral drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension (Henry Daniell)

    Friday, February 14, 2020

    In pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), high blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries causes the heart to work extra hard to pump blood to the lungs and around the rest of the body. The condition is rare but deadly, and current treatments are expensive and have side effects and inconvenient modes of delivery. There is no cure. With a goal of developing a more effective, convenient, and affordable therapy, research led by Henry Daniell of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine produced a protein drug in lettuce leaves to treat PAH. He worked with other scientists, including Steven M. Kawut of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine; Tim Lahm from the Indiana University School of Medicine; Maria Arolfo and Hanna Ng of the Stanford Research Institute, on toxicology and pharmacokinetic studies; and Cindy McClintock and Diana Severynse-Stevens of RTI International, on regulatory studies.

  • Awards & Accolades (César de la Fuente)

    Monday, February 10, 2020

    César de la Fuente, PhD, an assistant professor in the departments of Psychiatry, Microbiology, and Bioengineering, was awarded the first Langer Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Excellence by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The fellowship is named for biomedical pioneer Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Prize, which aims to support rising stars in the early stages of their careers, provides an unrestricted grant to enable creative researchers and engineering entrepreneurs to tackle high-risk, high-impact challenges with the potential of achieving game-changing innovations.

  • Penn nanoparticles are less toxic to T cells engineered for cancer immunotherapy (Michael Mitchell)

    Tuesday, January 28, 2020

    New cancer immunotherapies involve extracting a patient’s T cells and genetically engineering them so they will recognize and attack tumors. This technique is a true medical breakthrough, with an increasing number of leukemia and lymphoma patients experiencing complete remissions since CAR T therapy was FDA approved in 2017. This type of therapy is not without challenges, however. Engineering a patient’s T cells is laborious and expensive. And when successful, the alterations to the immune system immediately make patients very sick for a short period of time, with symptoms including fever, nausea and neurological effects. Now, University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated a new engineering technique that, because it is less toxic to the T cells, could enable a different mechanism for altering the way they recognize cancer. Treatment courses with T cells that use this mechanism could have fewer side effects for patients. The researchers’ new engineering technique involves ferrying messenger RNA (mRNA) across the T cell’s membrane via a lipid-based nanoparticle, rather than using a modified HIV virus to rewrite the cell’s DNA. Using the former approach would be preferable, as it only confers a temporary change to the patient’s immune system, but the current standard method for getting mRNA past the cell membrane can be too toxic to use on the limited number of T cells that can be extracted from a patient. The researchers demonstrated their technique in a study published in the journal Nano Letters. It was led by Michael Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Margaret Billingsley, a graduate student in his lab.

  • Ravi Radhakrishnan Named Chair of the Department of Bioengineering

    Friday, January 24, 2020

    Radhakrishnan holds joint appointments in the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He is a founding member and the current Director of the Penn Institute for Computational Science, as well as a member of the Penn Physical Sciences in Oncology Center, Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, and several graduate groups, including Materials Science and Engineering, Genomics and Computational Biology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.

  • Penn Study Paves Way for New Vaccines to Protect Infants Against Infections (Drew Weissman)

    Wednesday, January 8, 2020

    A new Penn Medicine study puts researchers within closer reach of vaccines that can protect infants against infections by overcoming a mother’s antibodies, which are known to shut down immune defenses initiated by conventional vaccines. That hurdle largely explains why vaccinations for infectious diseases like influenza and measles not given until six to 12 months of age. Findings from the preclinical study were published online today in Science Translational Medicine.

  • Jason Burdick Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

    Thursday, December 19, 2019

    Jason Burdick, Robert D. Bent Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), an award of high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors. Elected Fellows have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society. Burdick’s research interests include developing degradable polymeric biomaterials that can be used for tissue engineering, drug delivery, and fundamental polymer studies. His lab focuses on developing polymeric materials for biomedical applications with specific emphasis on tissue regeneration and drug delivery. Burdick believes that advances in synthetic chemistry and materials processing could be the answer to organ and tissue shortages in medicine. The specific targets of his research include: scaffolding for cartilage regeneration, controlling stem cell differentiation through material signals, electrospinning and 3D printing for scaffold fabrication, and injectable hydrogels for therapies after a heart attack.

  • Computer-generated antibiotics, biosensor Band-Aids, and the quest to beat antibiotic resistance (Cesar de la Fuente)

    Monday, December 2, 2019

    Imagine if a computer could learn from molecules found in nature and use an algorithm to generate new ones. Then imagine those molecules could get printed and tested in a lab against some of the nastiest, most dangerous bacteria out there—bacteria quickly becoming resistant to our current antibiotic options. Or consider a bandage that can sense an infection with fewer than 100 bacterial cells present in an open wound. What if that bandage could then send a signal to your phone letting you know an infection had started and asking you to press a button to trigger the release of the treatment therapy it contained? These ideas aren’t science fiction. They’re projects happening right now, in various stages, in the lab of Penn synthetic biologist César de la Fuente, who joined the University as a Presidential Professor in May 2019. His ultimate goal is to develop the first computer-made antibiotics. But beyond that, his lab—which includes three postdoctoral fellows, a visiting professor, and a handful of graduate students and undergrads—has many other endeavors that sit squarely at the intersection of computer science and microbiology.

  • Penn Engineers Devise Easier Way of Sneaking Antibodies into Cells (Andrew Tsourkas)

    Wednesday, October 30, 2019

    For almost any conceivable protein, corresponding antibodies can be developed to block it from binding or changing shape, which ultimately prevents it from carrying out its normal function. As such, scientists have looked to antibodies as a way of shutting down proteins inside cells for decades, but there is still no consistent way to get them past the cell membrane in meaningful numbers. Now, Penn Engineering researchers have figured out a way for antibodies to hitch a ride with transfection agents, positively charged bubbles of fat that biologists routinely use to transport DNA and RNA into cells. These delivery vehicles only accept cargo with a highly negative charge, a quality that nucleic acids have but antibodies lack. By designing a negatively charged amino acid chain that can be attached to any antibody without disrupting its function, they have made antibodies broadly compatible with common transfection agents.

  • Six Penn Faculty Members Elected to National Academy of Medicine (James Eberwine)

    Monday, October 21, 2019

    James H. Eberwine, PhD, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and co-director of the Penn Program in Single Cell Biology. Eberwine’s research focuses on the variation in function of single cells in complex cellular networks. This interest led him to develop, among other methodologies, single cell PCR, the aRNA amplification protocol and to coin the phrase “expression profile” to describe the relative abundances of RNAs, thus pioneering the field of single cell biology. He is an inventor on over 170 patent applications and is an elected member of the National Academy of Inventors. He originated and has directed two long running Cold Spring Harbor Summer Courses, “Advanced Techniques in Neuroscience” and “Single Cell Analyses”. Currently is a member of the NIH Multi-Council Working Group that oversees the US BRAIN Initiative and is co-Chairing the Working Group that is writing the Neuroethics Roadmap for the BRAIN Initiative.

  • Penn Engineers Solve the Paradox of Why Tissue Gets Stiffer When Compressed (Paul Janmey)

    Monday, October 14, 2019

    Tissue gets stiffer when it’s compressed. That property can become even more pronounced with injury or disease, which is why doctors palpate tissue as part of a diagnosis, such as when they check for lumps in a cancer screening. That stiffening response is a long-standing biomedical paradox, however: tissue consists of cells within a complex network of fibers, and common sense dictates that when you push the ends of a string together, it loosens tension, rather than increasing it. Now, in a study published in Nature, University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science researchers have solved this mystery by better understanding the mechanical interplay between that fiber network and the cells it contains.

  • Seven Penn Medicine Scientists Receive National Institutes of Health Director’s Awards (James Eberwine)

    Friday, October 4, 2019

    For the second year in a row, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected seven researchers from Penn to receive its prestigious Director’s Awards, part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The initiative, designed to fuel research endeavors that are more opened-ended and have a potentially broader effect on scientific understanding compared to more traditional research, presents awards to scientists in four categories to support research over a five-year period. James Eberwine, PhD, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Pharmacology, will receive up to $3.5 million to investigate RNA structure within single cells in cortex and hippocampus tissue in the brains of mice and humans. Traditional isolation of RNA for research purposes changes its makeup, and therefore, the intracellular forms of RNA are not well understood. By uniquely analyzing natural structural changes of RNA and also how RNA structure can be manipulated, Eberwine’s work may influence the development of future therapies. This is Eberwine’s second Pioneer Award, having also won in 2008; he is one of only five people to be awarded the grant more than once. Grant ID: DP1 AA028409.

  • Artificial Cells Can Deliver Molecules Better Than the Real Thing

    Tuesday, July 16, 2019

    From pills to vaccines, ways to deliver drugs into the body have been constantly evolving since the early days of medicine. Now, a new study from members of the lab of Virgil Percec have constructed drug delivery vehicle. The research focuses on a dendrimersome, a compartment with a lamellar structure and size that mimic a living cell. It can be thought of as the shipping box of the cellular world that carries an assortment of molecules as cargo. Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Daeyeon Lee Wins James M. Lee Memorial Award from Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers

    Wednesday, May 1, 2019

    Daeyeon Lee, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has been selected by the U.S. Chapter of the Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers (KIChE) as the recipient of the 2019 James M. Lee Memorial Award. KIChE is an organization that aims “to promote constructive and mutually beneficial interactions among Korean Chemical Engineers in the U.S. and facilitate international collaboration between engineers in U.S. and Korea.”

  • Robert Carpick Named ASME Fellow

    Tuesday, April 30, 2019

    Robert Carpick, John Henry Towne Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, has been selected as a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Founded in 1880, ASME is a leading engineering organization that emphasizes multidisciplinary collaboration and skill development. Of its more than 100,000 members around the world, less than 4,000 have attained the grade of Fellow.

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Center for Targeted Therapeutics and Translational Nanomedicine

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