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Daniel Alexander
November 23, 2022

Juliane Nguyen, an associate professor in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy has recently received an $1.9M R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI) to develop a non-invasive, living drug depot to treat heart attacks.  

“Cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States,” said Nguyen. “One bottleneck to achieving therapeutically relevant cell concentrations at the infarct site after myocardial infarction is the poor cell engraftment and retention of vehicles at the target site. Here we propose the first-of-its- kind, tunable, replenishable scaffold of cells that allows for multiple drug delivery “waves” to address this gap.”  

Nguyen, the principal investigator on the project is joined by two collaborators: Dr. Brian C. Jensen, M.D., an associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and Dr. Eric M. Bachelder, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Jensen will provide clinical perspectives on the translation of the technology, while Bachelder will assess potential immunogenicity of the ZipperCells. The Eshelman Institute for Innovation provided the seed funds to generate key data for this project.  

“These studies are expected to result in a new class of carrier-linked network that will not only substantially enhance cellular accumulation, retention, and local drug release at the infarct site to maximize therapeutic efficacy but also allow for several cycles of drug replenishment or personalized dosing in a non- invasive manner,” said Nguyen. “Here, we aim to evaluate the safety and therapeutic effectiveness of this approach and assess the effect of surface modification on stem cell function. Successful completion of the proposed studies will transform the treatment of patients suffering from myocardial infarction.”  

“We are excited to receive this funding to further develop our technology of a living drug depot that could potentially help patients in the future,” said Nguyen. “Delivering therapeutics to the site of disease is still a huge challenge and failure to do so is associated with ineffective treatments and severe side effects. With our technology we can amplify the targetable surface area and increase drug accumulation where we need it the most.”

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