Fordham Junior Researches Nanoparticles Abroad

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Fordham’s own Sara Hurley to discuss her exciting summer research project. Sara, a Class of 2018 Chemistry major, spent her summer at the University of Cologne in Germany working with a world-class research team on nanoparticle modification for micro-RNA delivery. When asked how she settled on this topic, Sara asserted, “I’m pre-med, so I’m very interested in medical applications of chemistry. I knew I wanted to research abroad, and I found myself drawn to Germany, so this program was perfect.”

Sara’s research focused on “the synthesis and modification of magnetite (Fe3O4) particles,” a specific nanoparticle (between 1 and 100 nanometers) popular in biochemical research for its magnetic properties and proven biocompatibility. Having synthesized the desired magnetite particles from an iron-oleate precursor using thermal decomposition, Sara and her team methodically modified the surface of their magnetite particles via ligand exchange. They managed to successfully attach the AAN3 ligand to the surface, which she described as “a significant step forward because it is both hydrophilic and has an azide group that can react with alkines in a ‘click’ reaction,” an efficient reaction with very few unnecessary side products.

Having properly synthesized and modified their nanoparticles, Sara and her team were ready to tackle the true application of their research. She spent the rest of her summer attaching anti-sense miRNA to the modified magnetite particles. Anti-sense miRNA is complementary to and seeks out the miRNA secreted by cancer particles—Sara’s team focused on hepatocellular carcinoma—and once attached, would allow the researchers to determine which proteins are being secreted.

“Micro-RNA regulates post-transcription gene translation,” Sara said, “and so we’d eventually like to determine how and why it’s secreted in cancer cells, and down the road, find a way to prevent its secretion.”

Sara suggested this would significantly slow cancerous growth.

When asked about the most rewarding part of her experience, Sara gushed “original research is an amazing learning experience, a great way to learn outside of classes. It’s really cool to think that the research I’m doing might actually help someone.” She reiterated that original research “is the best learning experience [because] you are learning from professors and they are learning from you too. You are extra invested in what you’re learning.”

Overall, Sara is very happy with her experience. “Everyone in my lab was super nice and helpful and taught me everything I needed to know.” She has continued her nanoparticle research through Fordham this semester, looking at similar applications to ovarian cancer.

Her biggest obstacle, of course, was learning to use all the new instruments. “I came close to causing some explosions,” she related with a grin, “but the other intern actually caused an explosion that shut a room down for two days, so at least I’m not that intern.”

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