N.C. A&T Nanoengineering Professor Receives NCInnovation Grant for Drug Delivery Research

By Jamie Crockett / 05/21/2024 Research and Economic Development, Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 21, 2024) – Researchers at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN), led by Kristen Dellinger, Ph.D., are making significant strides in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Their groundbreaking research has received a grant of $369,024 over two years from NCInnovation as part of its inaugural round of research funding, which totaled $5.2 million across eight projects.

A key focus of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University team's research is the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a significant challenge in treating neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease, as it hinders many drugs and small molecules from reaching the brain. By harnessing the potential of small extracellular vesicles, which have shown promising ability to cross the BBB, the team aims to revolutionize therapeutic delivery to the brain.

“The BBB has always been a hurdle in effective drug delivery to the brain, requiring higher drug doses that can lead to negative side effects. To overcome this, we're leveraging extracellular vesicles, which are tiny lipid packages, as carriers to enhance drug delivery across the BBB,” said Dellinger, an assistant professor of nanoengineering. “This NCInnovation project will focus on effective ways of isolating and engineering these tiny packages to improve the commercial viability and translation of this approach.”

The project's co-principal investigator, Jeffrey Alston, Ph.D., an associate professor of nanoengineering, brings experience in nanotextured surfaces and interfaces, including the design of biopolymer surfaces infused with liquids, the formation of nanoparticles in emulsion systems, and the study of low-density, high-temperature stable nanomaterials. His expertise will play a crucial role in the materials development and engineering of the project's extracellular vesicle isolation and yield.

“Scientific discovery and the pursuit of solutions that advance the human condition are critically important to North Carolina A&T’s mission as a high-impact research university,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “We thank the General Assembly and NCInnovation for supporting Dr. Dellinger’s work, as well as the university applied research that fuels innovation across our state.”

Dellinger joined JSNN in 2019, bringing expertise in synthetic biology, biomedical and chemical engineering. She received a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in chemical engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Dellinger leads the NanoBio Innovation (NBI) Laboratory at JSNN, which focuses on exploring extracellular vesicles for disease treatment and diagnosis, designing and evaluating biosensors for early disease detection, and engineering functionalized nanoparticles and 2D platforms for integrated optical sensors in biomedical and environmental applications.

Dellinger recently co-authored the article “Unlocking the potential of circulating small extracellular vesicles in neurodegenerative disease through targeted biomarkers and advancements in biosensing,” which was published in the Exploration of BioMat-X Journal in April. The article explores how small extracellular vesicles can be used as “potential sources of markers for screening, diagnosing and monitoring neurodegenerative diseases” like AD and Parkinson’s.

Dellinger’s project is one of eight NCInnovation selected for funding. Others are led by research teams at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, East Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University. According to NCInnovation, “the grants will support applied research that has already achieved proof of concept.”

-Kristen Dellinger, Ph.D., contributed to this report

Media Contact Information: jicrockett@ncat.edu

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