Vivero-Escoto Lab Receives NSF Funding to Continue Cancer Research

To further research efforts in improving delivery and impact of cancer treatments through nanoscale science, the lab of Juan Vivero-Escoto, associate professor of chemistry, has received $100,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Vivero-Escoto’s research focus is on developing biodegradable nanoparticles that can deliver higher, longer-lasting doses of treatment to cancer cells, then break down and dissipate without the harsh side effects commonly associated with cancer treatments.

“Our team is testing the use of silica particles that stay in the body longer and deliver drugs to a tumor more effectively,” Vivero-Escoto said.  “A principal challenge is finding the right combination of these materials that will degrade quickly enough to prevent them from becoming toxic.”

The research project, “Biodegradable Hybrid Nanoparticles Containing Photosensitizing Agents,” is a continuation of a joint project with researchers in Brazil that started in 2016 with support from UNC Charlotte’s Graduate School and the State of São Paulo Research Foundation.  The program, called SPRINT (São Paulo Researchers in International Collaboration), provides opportunities for faculty from the two countries to form research partnerships.

“The SPRINT program has been instrumental to the progress of this research,” Vivero-Escoto said.  “Our collaboration with our colleagues in Brazil has been quite productive.”

The latest round of funding comes from the NSF’s EAGER program (Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research), designed to enable research projects that focus on ideas that are more risky, yet offer what the NSF calls potentially transformative breakthroughs.

Juan Luis Vivero-Escoto (standing) and his students volunteer at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo.

Juan Luis Vivero-Escoto (standing) and his students volunteer at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo.

In addition to its focus on cutting-edge research, Vivero-Escoto’s team spends time sharing the joys and challenges of research with students in traditionally underrepresented, primarily minority communities.  The professor and his students work regularly with Charlotte-area students from kindergarten through high school, delivering presentations, workshops and experimentation to expose more young people to nanoscale science and assure them that becoming a scientist is within their grasp.

“Our duty as researchers is not only to promote research and education,” Vivero-Escoto said, “but to be a role model for future generations.  The U.S. must grow the number of people with knowledge of nanoscience in our workforce to compete worldwide.”

Words: Courtesy of The Graduate School at UNC Charlotte | Images: Lynn Roberson, CLAS Communications Director