Joshua McGee, a senior in the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department and a member of the UMass Integrated Concentration in Science Program and the Commonwealth Honors College, was one of two College of Engineering undergraduate students chosen as “Rising Researchers,” as designated by the UMass website Research/Next. As McGee’s faculty research advisor, ChE Professor Sarah Perry, noted in her nomination letter for McGee, “Josh is one of the best students that I have worked with.”
The other Rising Researcher from engineering was Jaydeep Radadiya, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, who is covered in a separate article.
Perry explained that McGee easily grasps difficult technical concepts, “understands the connections between big-picture challenges and day-to-day efforts,” and has been recognized for his success with multiple best poster awards at regional and international conferences.
According to Perry, “Josh joined my lab on a collaborative project with the pharmaceutical company Novartis to develop microfluidic devices to assist in the structure-based drug design process. These devices require a support frame and a handling cassette to make them available for filling using standard laboratory automation.”
Perry went on to say that “Despite having no background in the area, Josh quickly learned how to use computer-aided design software. In collaboration with the 3D printing facilities at Novartis, he developed and optimized a setup that we have since used in a series of high-throughput experiments. These efforts will be highlighted in an upcoming peer-reviewed manuscript with Novartis.”
Perry also reported that McGee developed his own independent project. “Josh had learned of the challenges that a student from another lab was facing with regards to the manufacture of protein-based nanoparticles for drug delivery,” said Perry. “Josh dug into the literature and then came and proposed the idea of using microfluidics to facilitate the preparation of these nanoparticles more quickly and efficiently.”
Perry said that McGee’s proposal had the depth of knowledge and planning for a senior graduate-level researcher, which led him to a string of research successes.
As Perry said, “Josh has since moved on to address challenges related to nanoparticle purification, drug loading, and more complex nanoparticle structures for advanced drug delivery applications.”
As McGee explained the background for his work with Perry to Research Next, “During my freshman year, I joined Professor Sarah Perry’s lab, where I develop microfluidics for a range of real-world applications, including protein nanoparticle synthesis and X-ray crystallography. I learned microfluidic design and fabrication techniques by collaboratively creating a high-throughput microfluidic chip and a 3D printed device that allows for the automation of X-ray crystallography experiments.”
McGee explained that the automation of such experiments is highly important to the pharmaceutical industry because almost all newly developed small-molecule therapeutics are discovered in resource intensive crystallography ligand binding experiments.
“To accomplish this project,” said McGee, “I worked closely with multiple graduate students and industrial collaborators to develop a high-throughput system that has been shown to significantly reduce the time and effort in X-ray crystallography experiments. The results of this project are being compiled into a manuscript that will eventually be published in a peer-reviewed journal.”
Related to McGee’s independent project on protein synthesis, he developed a microfluidic platform that addresses the need for high-throughput continuous production of homogenous protein nanoparticles, a platform which has many potential applications in food, medicine, and electronics.
This project has been the capstone of his research at UMass, and he has presented this work multiple times, winning a second-place award at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers
(AIChE) Northeast Conference and a first-place award at the AIChE National Conference. This research has also led to McGee developing additional research collaborations.
“Since starting this project,” McGee told Research Next, I began studying nanoparticle drug delivery to cancerous tissue with ChE Professors Neil Forbes and John Klier. I have also started another project with the goal of developing a method to synthesize nanoparticles that can be made to contain multiple therapeutics in an effort to improve combinatorial therapies. (March 2021)