Students explore nanomedicine research on CaNCURE co-​​ops

In August 2014 we announced an exciting new cancer nanomed­i­cine research co-​​op pro­gram called CaN­CURE, which gives scores of North­eastern stu­dents the oppor­tu­nity to work in cutting-​​edge lab­o­ra­to­ries at the Dana Farber/​Harvard Cancer Center and North­eastern in the area of cancer nanomed­i­cine. This month, the program’s first cohort of stu­dents will wrap up their co-​​ops, expe­ri­ences that they say have been nothing short of career-​​defining.

All 15 of the under­grad­u­ates in the pro­gram, which is funded by the National Cancer Insti­tute, recently gave pre­sen­ta­tions on their work. Chem­ical engi­neering major Jordan Harris, E’17, noted that a pre­vious co-​​op at Selecta Bio­sciences Inc., a clinical-​​stage biotech­nology com­pany in Water­town, Mass­a­chu­setts, piqued his interest in nanomed­i­cine, which he fur­ther inves­ti­gated through his lab-​​based CaN­CURE co-​​op. He worked at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pital in Boston, where he con­tributed to a project involving engi­neered nanopar­ti­cles that target prostate cancer cells.

The nanofield is super inno­v­a­tive,” Harris told me, “and I want to be on the brink of new dis­cov­eries. Inte­grating dif­ferent sci­ences together, like biology, chem­istry, physics, and engi­neering, is really inter­esting to me.”

Jordan Harris, E'17, presents on his research co-op through the CaNCURE program at Nanomedicine Day on June 15 in Dodge Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Jordan Harris, E’17, presents on his research co-​​op through the CaN­CURE pro­gram at Nanomed­i­cine Day on June 15 in Dodge Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Health sci­ences major Linda Wiinberg’s pre­vious expe­ri­en­tial learning opportunities—an intern­ship at a hos­pital in Sweden and a co-​​op at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital—mainly focused on the clin­ical side of med­i­cine. Her CaN­CURE co-​​op was her first foray into nanomedicine.

For the past six months Wiin­berg, BHS’15, has worked in asso­ciate pro­fessor of chem­ical engi­neering Rebecca Carrier’s lab on a project aimed at val­i­dating Carrier’s pre­dic­tive model for how ingested lipids, or fat mol­e­cules, change the way the body absorbs dif­ferent com­pounds. It’s long been known that food diges­tion affects how the body absorbs drugs, but her work seeks to fill knowl­edge gaps around how doc­tors can fine-​​tune dosages, min­i­mize side effects, and make drug delivery more efficient.

It’s been a really great expe­ri­ence,” Wiin­berg said in a phone inter­view. She noted that her co-​​op has inspired her to pursue a com­bined MD/​PhD pro­gram while affording her the oppor­tu­nity to sharpen her crit­ical thinking lab skills and better under­stand the chem­istry behind her research exper­i­ments. She also said the CaN­CURE program’s pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment work­shops and weekly sem­i­nars on trans­lating research from lab to market have broad­ened her per­spec­tive on a career in research.

Rachel Fontana, S'17, presents on her research co-op through the CaNCURE program at Nanomedicine Day on June 15 in Dodge Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Rachel Fontana, S’17, presents on her research co-​​op through the CaN­CURE pro­gram at Nanomed­i­cine Day on June 15 in Dodge Hall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Bio­chem­istry major Rachel Fontana, S’17, for her part, worked on co-​​op at Dana-​​Farber in a lab run by Mike Mak­ri­giorgos, pro­fessor of radi­a­tion oncology at Har­vard Med­ical School. There she studied the tech­nolo­gies involved in liquid biopsy, which is a means of detecting cancer bio­markers in the blood. Specif­i­cally, her work focused on cir­cu­lating tumor DNA, which is DNA that’s been shed into the bloodstream.

Through this co-​​op, I wanted to work on an inter­esting project and make progress that could give some­thing back to the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity,” she said. “I was able to achieve that.”

Fontana added that her co-​​op expe­ri­ence increased her appre­ci­a­tion for the time and ded­i­ca­tion it takes to master a skill in a sci­en­tific lab—in her case, that one thing was poly­merase chain reac­tion, a fast and inex­pen­sive tech­nique that is used to copy small seg­ments of DNA and is some­times called “mol­e­c­ular photocopying.”

Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor Srinivas Sridhar, who is in the Department of Physics and is the director of the CaNCURE and IGERT nanomedicine programs. Northeastern University photo

Arts and Sci­ences Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor Srinivas Sridhar, who is in the Depart­ment of Physics and is the director of the CaN­CURE and IGERT nanomed­i­cine pro­grams. North­eastern Uni­ver­sity photo

The CaN­CURE pro­gram is a part­ner­ship between North­eastern and the Dana-​​Farber/​Harvard Cancer Center, and is sup­ported by a grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health’s National Cancer Insti­tute. The program’s goal is to train the next gen­er­a­tion of cancer nanomed­i­cine sci­en­tists and clin­i­cians through research-​​based co-​​ops in leading sci­en­tists’ labs at both institutions.

The stu­dents’ pre­sen­ta­tions, which took place June 15, were part of Northeastern’s first annual Nanomed­i­cine Day. The event fea­tured talks and 40 poster demon­stra­tions by all 15 of the under­grad­u­ates in the CaN­CURE pro­gram; doc­toral stu­dents in the IGERT pro­gram; and other grad­uate stu­dents con­ducting nanomed­i­cine research at Northeastern.

We have a solid base of nanomed­i­cine research and edu­ca­tion here at North­eastern,” said Arts and Sci­ences Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor Srinivas Sridhar, a fac­ulty member in the Depart­ment of Physics and the director of the CaN­CURE and IGERT nanomed­i­cine programs.

Seven more stu­dents will begin their CaN­CURE co-​​ops in July, and in Sep­tember appli­ca­tions will be posted for the January-​​June 2016 co-​​op cycle.