Overcoming Physiological Barriers

The interface of synthetic organic chemistry and drug delivery
The Vegas group pursues general and systematic approaches to developing targeted therapeutic carriers for the treatment of multiple human diseases. Small-molecule drugs excel at altering disease states at the cellular level, but their therapeutic benefits are often hindered by physiological barriers that impact their toxicity, efficacy, and distribution. The ability to overcome these barriers can make major differences in both the safety and effectiveness of a therapeutic. Engineering-based approaches have successfully shown that formulation can overcome barriers associated with toxicity and bioavailability, and are increasingly focused on tissue distribution and selective targeting of diseased tissues.

There are currently few examples of chemical approaches being used to develop and implement new targeting modalities for drug delivery, and key questions have arisen regarding implementation and outcome. Can we effectively utilize physiological targets to localize medicines to diseased tissues? What targets can be used to improve drug localization to tumor sites? Can we modulate the tumor microenvironment? Can we selectively destroy autoimmune-causing cells?

Projects in the lab are focused on developing novel chemical tools, materials and approaches for targeting therapeutics to diseased tissues, with an emphasis on cancer and diabetes. These new tools will facilitate studies in the lab to understand mechanisms that control the physiological distribution of therapeutics and informing future targeting element design.  

For cancer, the primary focus will be developing conjugate and nanoparticle based approaches that control the physiological distribution and uptake of therapeutic molecules to tumors and the use of biomaterials to manipulate the tumor microenvironment. For diabetes, our focus will be selective destruction and modulation of cells responsible for the underlying type 1 autoimmunity.

Researchers in the lab design and implement synthetic methods to create novel targeting moieties and materials and link them to payloads with therapeutic value or potential. These constructs will then be evaluated at the protein and cellular levels, with lead constructs being advanced into animal studies. Techniques, methods, and approaches from organic synthesis, chemical biology, materials science, and biomedical engineering will be integrated to address these challenging problems in drug delivery.