Jennifer L. West, Ph.D., NAE
Dean of Engineering and Applied Science
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
University of Virginia
Seminar: Nanotechnologies for Cancer Diagnostics and Therapeutics
Abstract: The increasing capability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale is generating new materials with unique properties that promise to address unmet medical needs for future generations. As an example, metal nanoshells are nanoparticles with highly tunable optical properties. Metal nanoshells consist of a dielectric core nanoparticle such as silica surrounded by an ultrathin metal shell, usually composed of gold for biomedical applications. Depending on the size and composition of each layer of the nanoshell, particles can be designed to either absorb or scatter light over much of the visible and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, including the near infrared region where penetration of light through tissue is maximal. These particles are also easily conjugated to antibodies and other biomolecules for molecular targeting. One can envision a myriad of potential applications of such tunable particles. Several potential biomedical applications are under development, including immunoassays, modulated drug delivery, photothermal cancer therapy, and imaging contrast agents. For example, in photothermal cancer therapy, nanoshells can be injected intravenously, accumulate at tumor sites due to the EPR effect and/or molecular targeting, then generate heat upon illumination with near infrared light, leading to destruction of the tumor. This has shown very promising results in a mouse colon carcinoma model, with 100% survival of nanoshell treated mice at 1 year. These materials are now in human clinical trials, demonstrating high efficacy without clinically significant side effects or adverse events. Furthermore, integrated imaging and therapy applications have been accomplished with nanoshells designed to provide both absorption and scattering, potentially enabling "see-and-treat" approaches to cancer therapy.
About the Speaker: Jennifer L. West’s formidable record of accomplishments spans 25 years as a transformational researcher, award-winning teacher and mentor, inventor and entrepreneur. Her research focuses on the use of biomaterials, nanotechnology and tissue engineering, applying engineering approaches to studying biological problems and solving unmet medical needs, particularly in the fight against cancer. Dean West came to UVA as Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science on July 1, 2021, from Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, where she was the Fitzpatrick Family University Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Associate Dean for Doctoral Education, with appointments in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and materials science. In 2019, the Duke Graduate School honored her with the Dean’s Graduate Mentoring Award. Prior to Duke, she was one of the founding members of Rice University’s Department of Bioengineering, building the department over 16 years into a top-10 program. She is a highly respected leader in her field, with a publication “h-index” of 101 and national and international recognition for her contributions. The h-index is a measure of a scientist’s or scholar’s productivity as an author and the citation impact of their publications. Dean West was elected in 2015 to the National Academy of Engineering and in 2016 to the National Academy of Inventors. In 2015, she received the Society for Biomaterials Clemson Award. In 2014, she was recognized by Thomson Reuters as a Highly Cited Researcher, the top 1% in the field of materials science. She has been listed by MIT Technology Review as one of the 100 most innovative young scientists and engineers worldwide. She has 19 patents that have been licensed to eight different companies. One company, Nanospectra Biosciences Inc., co-founded by West, is running human clinical trials of a cancer therapy she invented.
Host: Nathan Swami, professor of electrical and computer engineering