Uncovering the Science Behind Ultrasound Imaging and Targeted Drug Delivery

July 26, 2023

Dr. Kausik Sarkar

Many diseases, such as cancers, are dreadful because oftentimes, they’re diagnosed late when therapy proves ineffective. Even if therapy is an option, it often involves debilitating side effects, including other life-threatening conditions. Thus, primary healthcare objectives are early, noninvasive, accurate diagnosis and effective therapeutic intervention without harmful side effects.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Kausik Sarkar has been awarded a new collaborative grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Materials Research to investigate the science behind the solution that will accomplish both goals without systematic toxicity, nanometer-size polymeric particles. Sarkar will do so alongside Professor Sanku Mallik of Pharmaceutical Science at North Dakota State University in the project “Design and mechanistic studies on microenvironment-sensitive polymeric nanoparticles for simultaneous contents release and ultrasound imaging.” 

Nanoparticles are similar in structure to body cells and can carry therapeutics to target areas while evading the body’s defense system. Professor Mallik will design this delivery potential by investigating the chemistry behind these nanoparticles to chemically engineer them to implode in a specific chemical environment found only in diseased conditions and deliver their cargo. 

Simultaneously, Professor Sarkar will investigate the mechanism behind the nanoparticles’ reflectivity. He will work on engineering the nanoparticle to entrap air allowing simultaneous ultrasound imaging before they are destroyed at the end of their journey. All experiments will be conducted using 3D cultures of cancer cells containing hypoxic niches.

“It is gratifying to get the funding as it is critical to execute the science. It also emphasizes the importance of collaboration for such projects, where one person can’t work in isolation to address the world’s pressing issues,” Sarkar stated.

This NSF-funded project is the second cross-disciplinary project led by the team, as they first started working on developing these nanoparticles in 2015. Their ultimate goal is to develop effective tools for diagnosis and therapy for hard-to-fight diseases where such tools can be a potential game changer. For the eventual clinical implementation of such future tools, this project will uncover the underlying science of both ultrasound imaging and targeted drug delivery.