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SPUR 2023: Adsorption reduction of hydrophobic drugs in Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) circuits


Faculty Mentor: Nitish Khurana
Title: Postdoctoral Scholar or Fellow
College: Pharmacy
School / Department: Pharmaceutics & Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Project description

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2023 begins on May 24 and ends on August 3. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. **

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a lifesaving technology in critically ill patients. It's a cardiopulmonary bypass device that provides life-saving complete respiratory and cardiac support in patients with cardiorespiratory failure. Although this mechanical support can be life-saving, mortality often exceeds 40%. The high mortality is suspected to be due, in part, to significantly altered drug disposition by the ECMO circuit, resulting in suboptimal dosing. Dosing is different in this population because ECMO can alter drug pharmacokinetics (PK). The PK of drugs in patients on ECMO can be altered by 1) physiologic alterations triggered by the circuit and underlying critical illness and 2) direct interaction of the drug with the ECMO circuit via hydrophobic interactions. Hydrophobic drugs are extremely vulnerable to getting adsorbed on the ECMO circuits. Adsorption of drugs can be prevented by micellar encapsulation of drugs. The advantage of having a hydrophilic shell in micelles is that it will avoid the interactions of drugs with the hydrophobic ECMO circuit and charged ECMO surface coating, hence reducing the extent of adsorption of drugs on the ECMO circuit.

Student Role: In this project we are developing formulations by encapsulating hydrophobic drugs in micelles and testing the reduction of adsorption of drugs in ECMO circuits. Encapsulation with a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) micellar platform aids in the rapid translation to clinical practice.
The student will learn how to manufacture the micellar-drug nanoparticle formulations, how to measure their size, shape, stability and other physiochemical properties. They will perform these experiments to obtain batches of micellar-drug nanoparticle formulations. Then, the student will learn how to test the biocompatibility of these formulations in in-vitro and ex-vivo systems. This entails testing the micellar-drug nanoparticle formulations in human cells (in-vitro) and human blood (ex-vivo) for their biocompatibility and adsorption on ECMO circuits. These experiments provide a wide range of experience for the student in a wet lab setting. Learning how to manufacture nanoparticles, how to characterize nanoparticles, learning good practices for cell culture handling, working with clinicians for testing nanoparticles in actual ECMO circuits etc. are a few examples.
Student Benefits: In addition to wet lab experience, this project will also provide a knowledge base for the student in the field of drug delivery and pharmaceutics and how to bridge that knowledge in a clinical setting or how that knowledge can help in improving patient quality of life. Anyone who is particularly interested in performing research at the interface of basic research and a clinical setting would highly benefit from this project. Gaining these skills can be very helpful for an undergraduate student, especially if they are planning to go further for graduate studies. Learning skills like literature review, giving presentations, being part of a research group, hands-on experience with experiments are some skills that every graduate student needs to learn for a successful transition from undergraduate to graduate studies and this project will help provide those skills.
Project Duration: 35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 24, 2023, and ends August 3, 2023
Opportunity Type: This is a paid research position
Opportunity Location Type: In Person
Is this a paid opportunity: Yes
Paid Description:

$5,000 stipend

Minimum Requirements: Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria:
  • be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2023 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2023 and not graduating before December 2023; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student.
  • eligible to work in the United States:
    • If your status prevents you from working, you may still be eligible to participate. If you are a University of Utah student, a University of Utah student who graduated from a Utah high school, or a graduating last year undergraduate student, the OUR will pursue a partnership to support undergraduate researchers through opportunities with the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid for the experience. If you have questions, please contact Megan Shannahan at 801-581-2478. Students with DACA Employment Authorization Documents will be hired and paid through U payroll.
    • If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at the University of Utah, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). Click here to view list of acceptable documents.
  • able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 24-August 3, 2023)
  • at least 18 years old by May 22, 2023 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing)
Students may not participate in SPUR more than once. Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.
How To Apply: Apply using the SPUR 2023 application. The deadline to submit an application is 11:59 PM (Mountain Time) on Sunday, January 29, 2023. Your application is not considered complete until both letters of recommendation have been submitted (deadline for letters is 11:59 PM (Mountain Time) on Wednesday, February 1, 2023).