When undergraduate and graduate engineering students from around the world gathered at the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers’ student research competition in Texas in November, Ryan Lojek ChE was named the “lone star” among the undergraduate presenters, winning “Undergraduate Poster of the Year” for his research on PLA-PEG micelles for the treatment of severe asthmatics.
“This experience was really very unique. I began work on this topic two years ago and will complete it as part of my senior research thesis,” says Lojek, who is advised by Dr. Noelle Comolli, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. “It’s been great to see the progression and to represent Villanova University at an international conference. Winning the competition was very rewarding.”
In May, Lojek presented his research at the Delaware Valley ISPE poster contest and tied for first place. In November, he competed against dozens of other students who won their respective regional competitions, with some participating from as far away as Turkey. Leading up to the competition, each student hosted a poster session on his/her research as part of the conference’s opening reception. On the day of the competition, each student presented individually to a panel of three judges.
Lojek aims to treat inflamed lung cells in severe asthmatics with controlled, targeted drug release. He has developed nanoparticles, made from a biodegradable polymeric micelle, that contain vitamin D3 and albuterol. The albuterol targets the inflammation, and as the nanoparticle degrades over time, it releases a controlled amount of vitamin D3. His research also involved optimizing the PLA-PEG ratio, preparation methods, and vitamin D3 encapsulation efficiency. If aerosolized within a nebulizer or metered-dose inhaler, these nanoparticles will provide a targeted, topical treatment for severe asthma.
So far, Lojek has verified the creation of micelle-like nanoparticles using SEM photos and the creation of PLA-PEG block copolymer using H NMR. The average polymer molecular weight was 500, with an average nanoparticle size of 100-200nm. The polymer was then tested for cytotoxicity and proved compatible with human lung cells. Since the competition, Lojek has also worked with Dr. Charles Coe, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, to create a synthesis scheme to attach albuterol to the PLA-PEG polymer.