Biomedical Polymer Lab
Won Jong Kim (Chemistry)
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1998 was awarded to three scientists for their discoveries related to the benefits of nitric oxide (NO) in the prevention of blood clots through the dilation of blood vessels and by curbing the proliferation of vascular endothelial cells and disrupting the function of platelets. In short, NO plays a beneficial role in preventing hypertension and arteriosclerosis by ensuring that blood pressure levels do not rise excessively. Moreover, it has been also determined recently that NO functions as an anti-neoplastic agent in that it destroys cancer cells.
Unfortunately, NO is also the primary culprit in aggravating inflammatory diseases. With the onset of inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, immune cells in inflammatory lesions produce significant amounts of NO, which in turn triggers an overactive immune response that just worsens the symptoms.
The Biomedical Polymer Lab led by Professor Won Jong Kim at the Department of Chemistry, POSTECH, fabricates nano-sized particles, that measure only tens to hundreds of nanometers long (1nm = one billionth of a meter), out of polymers. Researchers at the Lab then use these particles to deliver NO to the parts of the body where it is needed, while eliminating it in the places it’s not. Recently, it created ‘hybridgel’ which removes NO in inflammatory lesions and delivers therapeutic medications.
“Research on nano particles was initiated mainly for the purpose of delivering anticancer drugs”, Professor Kim noted, and added that “Moderna’s novel COVID-19 vaccine has also adopted this mechanism of delivering mRNAs within the human body by loading nano particles with mRNAs”.
The advantage researchers find particularly promising with nano particles is the fact that these microscopic particles can be used to deliver medications to targeted local sites to ultimately maximize therapeutic effects while minimizing any side effects. Essentially, nano particles have the potential to ward off many of the adverse effects that existing anticancer drugs cause. As traditional anti-tumor drugs lack the capacity to discriminate normal cells from cancer cells, the side effects for patients can be severe – including but not limited to vomiting, nausea, and/or hair loss. The application of nano particles is wide-ranging for a myriad of other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases and diabetes, to name a few.
The Biomedical Polymer Lab has so far focused on demonstrating the potential of nano particles by creating polymer-based nano particles and then testing them on animals. As such, the Lab developed nano particles that are able to penetrate into cerebrovascular membranes, which serve to protect the brain not only from toxic substances, but also from therapeutic agents, to effectively deliver medications. Researchers at the Lab also succeeded in engineering nano particles that specifically function in inflammatory lesions for patients with auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Such research findings graced the covers of the world-renowned international academic journals of the ‘Advanced Materials’ and the ‘Nano Letters’.
The Biomedical Polymer Lab plans to leverage polymers that are both compatible with the human body and are biodegradable within the body to develop nano particles applicable to the treatment of human diseases with a goal of conducting clinical trials. In collaboration with Omniamed, a bio venture firm that Professor Kim himself started at the end of 2019, the Lab is accelerating its work to develop nano particle-enabled therapeutics by capitalizing on the potential of NO.
“It is essential that we first establish technology to manufacture nano particles that deliver consistent quality in order to gain approval from the FDA for human therapeutics”, Professor Kim commented, adding that “Presently, we are working on biologically-friendly polymers based on the materials already approved by the US FDA, including polymers that are currently being used by Moderna”.
Head of Lab
Chemistry Building 318