Chemical Engineering (ChE) undergraduate Josh McGee won first place in the Food, Pharmaceuticals, and Biotech group of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Undergraduate Poster Session at its recent AIChE Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. McGee’s poster described research into “microfluidic synthesis and purification of protein nanoparticles,” as carried out by himself, fellow undergraduate Jacob Brandner, doctoral students Shane Taylor and Shuo Sui, ChE Department Head John Klier, and Professor Sarah L. Perry, all of the UMass ChE department.
According to the team’s abstract, nanoparticles have revolutionized the field of colloidal science and have been applied for a myriad of purposes in medicine, coatings, and even electronics. Many such applications, especially in medicine, necessitate precise control over parameters that include size, polydispersity, and chemical content.
However, say the researchers, nanoparticle synthesis procedures are limited in their scalability due to the critical interplay between particle size and solution conditions. Furthermore, medical applications necessitate the removal of trace chemicals and cytotoxic impurities – a challenge for nanoparticle suspensions.
As the research team members explain their resolution to these issues, “Here we present a scalable microfluidic process that addresses the need for high-throughput continuous production of homogenous, size-tunable, purified protein nanoparticles.”
According to McGee and his research colleagues, “The particles produced by our platform demonstrate superior stability and size tunability. Our system provides a 33 percent reduction of required solvent and an 80 percent reduction of crosslinking agent compared to benchtop BSA nanoparticle synthesis.”
The ChE research team also explains that purification is an important challenge in nanoparticle synthesis because the removal of small molecule cytotoxic impurities typically requires time-intensive centrifugation processes.
As the researchers say, “The H-filter in our platform enables purification of nanoparticles in a continuous manner by exploiting differences in diffusion times between small molecules and nanoparticles. Therefore, our platform can remove excess solvent and crosslinker, eliminating additional purification steps.”
McGee and the other team members conclude that their process introduces significant improvements to current protein nanoparticle synthesis processes, potentially enabling new applications in drug delivery.
“The approach in general and future work includes extrapolation into a plethora of other protein and polymer-based nanoparticle systems,” say the team members. “Additionally, the planar chip design allows for the process to be easily scaled-out for a variety of academic and industrial applications.”
For chemical engineers, chemists, and other scientists, McGee and associates explain the more technical aspects of their research this way: “Our platform takes advantage of laminar flow to enable the reproducible synthesis of monodisperse protein nanoparticles. Nanoparticle synthesis occurs via protein desolvation and controlled aggregation in the presence of ethanol, followed by cross-linking with glutaraldehyde. Laminar flow facilitates the precise control over protein, solvent, and cross-linker concentrations within the device, allowing for tuning of nanoparticle size.” (December 2019)