Student recognized for research with lab bench-to-bedside potential
Due to its association with obesity and diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now one of the leading causes of chronic liver disease worldwide, and because it develops insidiously, it often goes undiagnosed until its later stages. So, what can an engineer do to help? Maybe a great deal, if they’re engineering proteins.
Andrew Wang, a doctoral candidate who works in Professor Jin Kim Montclare’s Lab for Protein Engineering and Molecular Design, has helped to develop a thermoresponsive assembled protein (TRAP), a powerful protein construct that forms nanoparticles with the potential for dual drug delivery and medical image enhancement. He was recently accepted into NYU’s Clinical & Translational Research TL1 Training Program, a two-year initiative aimed at encouraging pre-and postdoctoral scholars to conduct studies with real-world clinical applications.
Given that one important metric of NAFLD’s progression is the deposition of fibrotic collagen and that collagen I-targeting peptides have been shown to be useful for imaging fibrosis in the liver, Wang hypothesizes that if he expresses an established collagen-targeting peptide on the surface of TRAP, it will allow the nanoparticles to be increasingly concentrated in the liver as fibrosis progresses, with a proportional increase in their potential to be used for both diagnosis and targeted drug therapy (a combination now referred to as theranosis).
“Previous attempts have been made to diagnose and image liver fibrosis with collagen-targeted MRI probes, but to my knowledge, this is the first time that a combined imaging and therapeutic approach will be explored for NAFLD,” Wang explains.
He’ll be collaborating with Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Edward Fisher, whose areas of expertise include the cell biology of very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs) produced by the liver and their role in atherosclerosis, and he’s excited to take part in the program, which includes “Scholar-to-Scholar Seminars” that provide a chance to network with peers and present research for critique, mentoring from faculty members, science-writing workshops, and media training (for those times when Scientific American and NPR come calling).
“The Clinical & Translational Research Institute at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine is world-class, and I’m very proud that they have recognized the potential of Andrew’s work and will support his training on his path towards being a physician-scientist, ” Montclare says. “He embodies the NYU Tandon mindset of engineering to improve society, and his research has the potential to transform the treatment of chronic liver disease.”