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How to Deliver More Precise Treatment to Specific Cells

S. Thai Thayumanavan

S. Thai Thayumanavan, interim head of the Biomedical Engineering Department and distinguished professor in the Chemistry Department, is part of a UMass team of researchers at the Center for Bioactive Delivery at the UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Sciences that has engineered a nanoparticle with the potential to revolutionize disease treatment, including cancer. This new research, published in Angewandte Chemie, involves a conjugate nanoparticle that can more precisely and effectively deliver treatment to the specific cells affected by cancer. 

The team’s approach depends on a nanoparticle the team engineered called a “protein-antibody conjugate,” or PAC.  See UMass News Office release.

“Imagine that the antibodies in PACs are the address on an envelope,” explains Thayumanavan, “and that the cancer-fighting protein is the contents of that envelope. The PAC allows us to deliver the envelope with its protected treatment to the correct address. So, safer protein-based drugs are delivered to the right cell—the result would be a treatment with fewer side effects.”

While the UMass team’s research represents a major milestone in cancer research, according to the UMass News Office article, the findings are also widely applicable. They could open many new opportunities in biomedicine, extending far beyond cancer to all sorts of genetic diseases, or really any abnormality that occurs inside a human cell.

“Among the implications,” says Thayumanavan, “perhaps the most exciting part is that this opens the door to develop cures for certain cancers that have been long considered undruggable or incurable.”

Thayumanavan’s lab (Thayumanavan Research Group) researches polymer self-assembly, responsive materials, and their use in diverse applications, including therapeutic delivery, sensing, and diagnostics. This project is related to one of the three main areas of the lab’s research: responsive nanomaterials.

“In drug delivery, for example, the molecular design needs to account for factors such as encapsulation stability, drug loading capacity, and biocompatibility,” as the laboratory website explains. “Within drug delivery, there are tertiary design challenges, dictated by the specific disease targeted.”

According to the website, “In our group, we are focused on developing generalized principles that underlie responsive molecular assemblies and the resultant materials. By addressing the primary design challenge, we have developed and are developing capabilities to tackle a broad range of challenges, including drug delivery, diagnostics, and sensing.”

Thayumanavan obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Chemistry from The American College in Madurai, India. Following this, he obtained his Ph.D. degree working in organolithium chemistry under the guidance of Professor Peter Beak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

After a postdoctoral stint with Professor Seth R. Marder at the California Institute of Technology, working on developing optoelectronic materials, he started his independent career as an assistant professor at Tulane University. After four years at Tulane, he moved the lab to UMass Amherst in 2003. (May 2021)