Research apprenticeships with faculty mentors give talented, motivated University of Delaware undergraduates a chance to see and take part in what is happening on the front lines of discovery.
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Azeem Sharief is a chemical engineering major from Newark, Delaware.
Q. What are you studying, where and with whom?
Sharief: My research focuses on leveraging 3D printing to advance tools for pulmonary drug delivery testing. My work is centered in the Colburn Lab and completed under the mentorship of Catherine Fromen, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. In particular, my research involves 3D printing an entire elastic lung model that includes the throat and upper airways, as well as all the five lobes of the human lung. In addition, I want to be able to expand and contract the lobes of the elastic lung model to simulate inhalation and exhalation of a patient without the use of a vacuum. Upon expansion, the real human lung increases its alveolar surface area by approximately 15 percent, so we hope to create a model with those parameters. After obtaining an entire elastic lung model, I will run particle deposition studies on a technology called the Next Generation Impactor (NGI) and analyze the deposition of particles from an inhaler. To further my understanding of pulmonary drug delivery, I will investigate how the positioning of drugs in an inhaler impacts the region of deposition within the lung. By doing so, we can achieve regional deposition of inhaled aerosol therapeutics to patients’ lungs.
Q. What is it about this topic that interests you?
Sharief: I am interested in furthering my understanding of inhaled therapeutic delivery. Moreover, I am interested in the techniques of achieving regional deposition of inhaled therapeutics. In addition to respiratory diseases, diseases such as cancer result in high rates of morbidity and mortality as well as affect the quality of life of millions of people. The standard treatments such as chemotherapy often lead to side effects such as hair loss in patients due to the cancer drugs unintentionally reaching other parts of the body. Therefore, being able to directly target a tumor is of interest to me, as we can mitigate the issue of drug side effects. In addition, 3D printing idealized lung models will help us derive the in vitro tools necessary for testing aerosol drug deposition. We can make more accurate inhaled devices for patients and improve aerosol drug science all together. I am enthusiastic to work with 3D printers nonetheless.
Q. What is a typical day like?
Sharief: A typical day begins with “Journal Club,” a time in which I read scientific publications in a certain topic related to inhaled therapeutic delivery and idealized lung modeling. Recently, I have been reading about magnetic particle formulations for targeted inhaled therapeutic delivery. The remainder of the day is spent collaborating with the head graduate student of the 3D printing group, Emily Kolewe. We brainstorm ideas for 3D printed parts that correspond to the Dynamic Lung Project. I mainly create and edit 3D parts in a program called Solidworks. After creating the parts, the files are exported in a printable format known as Standard Triangle Language (STL) – a file type used for stereolithography – and sent to our printer software. We work with the Carbon M1 printer, one of the most innovative printers on the market. This printer is so unique because it uses a CLIP (continuous liquid interface production) technology. To put it simply, the part is printed bottom up from a pool of liquid resin. In fact, the idea was inspired by the “Terminator” movie, which is another reason the Carbon M1 Printer is amazing. After the parts are printed, I spend a significant portion of time in post processing. This is essentially the time in which most of the hands-on lab work occurs. The printed parts are cleaned and cured for completion. In addition, the preparation of STL files and lab procedures are carefully documented in my electronic lab notebook for ease of reference with respect to future printing projects.
Q. What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do on the project?
Sharief: The coolest thing is to be able to oversee the entire process from start to finish of developing a part in Solidworks, generating its supports and having the part come out of the printer. The Carbon Printer’s CLIP (continuous liquid interface production) technology is amazing to watch as a time lapse because the parts essentially rise from a liquid bath. In addition, the similitude of the 3D Printing experience is that of an art class because you have to “make and bake” the part, and do several revisions until you come up with a masterpiece.
Q. What has surprised you the most about your experience?
Sharief: The most surprising thing of my experience is the fluidity and quickness of the Carbon M1 Printer. While the majority of time and effort goes into developing printable STL files, the printer optimizes everything with minimal manual instruction, and can generate the parts in a matter of hours.
Q. Dreaming big, where do you hope this work could lead?
Sharief: The core of my research is to improve the field of healthcare and aerosol drug science. Personally, I hope to have my research published in prestigious journals such as Nature and Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery. I hope that our 3D printed Dynamic Lung project will provide the data we need to develop tailored inhalers for patients that account for differences such as race, age, and present health. In addition, I hope the new technologies will receive patents and become a staple in the pharmaceutical industry. We hope to develop new inhalable medicines to improve treatment of all respiratory diseases, including lung cancer, and improve the quality of life of millions of people.
Q. If you had to summarize your experience in only one word, what would it be?
Sharief: My research experience is inspiring because the work we are doing is for the purpose of finding solutions to the grand challenge of engineering better medicines. We seek to deliver medication to provide health care directly tailored to each person.
Q. What do you enjoy when you are not doing research?
Sharief: When I am not conducting research, I enjoy playing table tennis and tending to my chickens and pet cat.
article by Beth Miller; photos by Evan Krape