Interim President Wole Soboyejo, Balancing Research with Administration, Leads Study Showing Nanoparticles Can Adhere to Difficult-to-Treat Breast Cancer Cells
When Wole Soboyejo suspended his duties as provost to serve as interim president of WPI in May 2022, he moved to a different office and took on challenging new duties, but he continued to make time for his research—something he considers critical to his academic role.
Soboyejo continued his research with an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and research faculty members. The team recently reported in the journal Biomaterials Advances that gold nanoparticles coated with a polymer and linked to an anti-cancer agent can bind to breast cancer cells that are difficult to target.
“For one hour of every weekday, I share my knowledge and experience with a team that does work that I find most fulfilling,” Soboyejo says. “I also get tremendous joy from seeing my students develop into scientists and engineers that are tackling some of the important global challenges of our time. Perhaps most important, my efforts in research help me to remain sensitive to the challenges that my faculty colleagues face on a daily basis as they try to engage in research that is meaningful and important to them.”
A student who has worked with Soboyejo says the researcher’s expertise, guidance, and—most important—dedication of time, have made a lasting impact.
“President Soboyejo’s ability to engage his team in complementary roles requires great scientific vision and taught me how to look at the bigger picture in approaching real-world problems,” says postdoctoral fellow Arvand Navabi ’22.
The researchers reported that targeted tiny gold particles adhered better to triple-negative breast cancer cells than they did to normal breast cells, making the particles possible candidates for the delivery of anti-cancer treatments to malignant cells that resist other targeted therapies.
Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent to 20 percent of all breast cancers. The disease is a global problem, but is more prevalent in younger women, women with inherited genetic mutations, and women of African and African American descent.
“Targeted therapies aim to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by delivering drugs directly to cancer cells. However, triple-negative breast cancer cells lack the surface receptors that conventional targeted drugs typically bind to,” says Soboyejo. “Thus, the development of nanoparticles that target other receptors that are present on the surfaces of triple-negative breast cancer cells could lead to next-generation targeted treatments. The therapeutic approach can also be extended to the specific targeting and treatment of other types of cancer.”
The new findings build on earlier research, published in Nature Scientific Reports and led by Soboyejo, that identified targeted drugs that reduced the size of triple-negative breast cancer tumors in mice without inducing toxic side effects. However, the recent research focuses on the development of targeted gold nanoparticles that can attach to receptors that are over-expressed on the surfaces of triple-negative breast cancer cells/tissues. Such nanoparticles can also interact with incident laser beams to induce localized heating that can kill the cancer cells at temperatures comparable to those in a warm bath.
In addition to Soboyejo and Navabi, WPI-affiliated co-authors on the paper are Vanessa O. Uzonwanne ’22 (PhD), John D. Obayemi, assistant research professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Ali A. Salifu; Shahnaz Ghahremani ’19; Nelson Ndahiro ’18; and Nima Rahbar, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering. Soboyejo has received funding for his research from WPI, the World Bank African Centers of Excellence, and the Pan African Materials Institute at the African University of Science and Technology.