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LCS's Rebecca Bader awarded NSF grant to develop targeted drug delivery system for anti-rheumatic medications

September 30, 2010

Ariel DuChene
(315) 443-2546

Syracuse University’s Rebecca Bader, assistant professor of biomedical and chemical engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), has been awarded her first National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to research a drug delivery system that will minimize the negative effects of taking anti-rheumatic medications over a long time period.

Bader’s research has been inspired by her aunt’s 41-year battle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. The chronic inflammation can lead to the destruction of cartilage, bone and ligaments, causing deformity of the joints. Bader’s aunt has been through countless surgeries and has had all major joints replaced at least twice.

Two drugs currently used to treat RA are methotrexate (MTX), a common oncology drug that has been used to treat cancer since 1950, and cyclosporine A, a drug commonly used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. Due to the systemic nature of an autoimmune disease, drugs must be administered to the entire body. The current delivery system of these medications is not capable of targeting the damaged tissues of the body. Therefore, all tissues, healthy or otherwise, absorb the drugs. Both methotrexate and cyclosporine A have a high incidence of adverse effects, including liver and kidney damage, especially when used longterm.

Bader’s research will explore using polysaccharides as the basis of vehicles for drug delivery. Polysaccharides are natural, biodegrable, non-immunogenic polymers normally found within the human body. The nanoparticle drug carrier systems will be designed to evade uptake by the reticuloendothelial system that functions to ingest foreign substances and to selectively target the diseased tissue based upon their large size (100 nanometers).

Most healthy tissues only have pores that are five nanometers, while diseased tissues have pores between 10 and 1,000 nanometers in size. Creating carrier systems that can only enter diseased tissue means optimizing drug targeting while minimizing adverse effects on healthy tissues.

Bader received a Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grant (BRIGE) grant of $174,990 to conduct her research over the next two years. BRIGE grants are awarded to researchers whose work will further promote NSF’s commitment to diversity in the field of engineering. Therefore, a key component of this project is to increase the recruitment of people with disabilities to engineering at SU.

Bader has formed a partnership with the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) located at SU. The BBI is world renowned for advancing the civic, economic and social participation of persons with disabilities. Bader will be actively participating in seminars, workshops and meetings organized by BBI. In addition to activities intended to increase awareness of members of both the University and the local community with disabilities, particularly those related to RA, Bader intends to recruit two students with disabilities to her laboratory (one undergraduate, one graduate) with the assistance of BBI. This initial recruitment will matriculate into an increased number of students with disabilities in engineering at the University.

Bader’s aunt continues to be her source of inspiration. “My aunt, Sue Weidenborner, was diagnosed with the disease at 20 and she’s now 61,” says Bader. She is quick to emphasize that she is independent, cares for her dog Jake, and is not bedridden. “She is my daily reminder that no matter how bad things get, I am doing the research that I do for people like her who really need the help. Hopefully, someday people with RA can forever continue to do the daily activities that most of us take for granted, and hopefully I can help make that happen.”

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