Dr. Peng He, an assistant professor of analytical chemistry in N.C. A&T’s College of Science and Technology is collaborating with Dr. Kennita Johnson, N.C. A&T adjunct professor and a research assistant professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University on her more than $560,000 Trailblazer R21 Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The project, titled “Novel Targeted Iodinated Microbubbles for Molecular Imaging with Computed Tomography” commenced in A&T in January 2019, and will last for two and a half years. The Trailblazer R21 Award mechanism is intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for early and conceptual stages of a project’s development, specifically for new and early stage investigators to pursue research programs of high interest to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences.
One year into the project, Dr. He and his PhD students are working in his lab in A&T’s New Sciences Building, designing and creating iodinated polymers. (As a reminder, polymers are large molecules with long chains made of many repeated units.) The He lab is infusing polymers with iodine, as the element is commonly used in X-ray contrast agents because of its ability to absorb external X-rays, enhancing the visibility of vascular structures and organs during radiographic procedures.
He’s novel iodinated polymers are radiopaque biomaterials, meaning he can use these biocompatible materials for bioimaging applications with less risk of contrast-induced kidney failure. He’s research is designed to create and test new materials to convey images of molecular events happening inside the human body.
“The technology we are exploring transcends traditional X-rays which only show anatomy,” explains He. “Adding a novel imaging component to bioimaging technology would allow patients to have high-resolution molecularly-targeted CT images that provide more information about disease states to physicians for better diagnosis and treatments.”
Say for example that your physician wanted to monitor molecularly-active events inside your body like cancer. Instead of nuclear medicine imaging conducted in a radiology lab, which is inefficient and at low-resolution targeted versions, He’s radiopaque iodinated polymers can perform the same function inside your body faster and at higher resolution.
Molecular imaging using iodinated polymers are safe within your body, they are biocompatible compared to typical contrast agents and they are precise. A physician and patient could use this imaging data inside the body to monitor conditions and allow for convenient diagnosis and treatment.