Research Challenge Trust Fund

Focus on Faculty

Kim AndersonKimberly Ward Anderson
Gill Eminent Professor of Chemical Engineering
In 2006, Kim Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she says she was lucky that it did not metastasize—spread to other parts of her body. “Metastasis is usually how cancer kills. My experience with breast cancer got me back to looking at molecules that enable cancer cells to stick to blood vessels.” Today, in a project funded by the Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation in collaboration with Zach Hilt (William T. Bryan Professor in Engineering), Anderson is working on magnetic nanoparticles to target and kill cancer. These nanoparticles are heated remotely and used in a cancer treatment called hyperthermia—heat up the nanoparticles and they kill the cancer. Anderson explains, “Studies have proven radiation and chemotherapy are more effective if you also apply hyperthermia. It weakens the cancer cells.” Hilt is developing nanoparticle hydrogels that deliver heat and cancer drugs to a tumor at the same time. Anderson is identifying “homing” and penetrating molecules, with which to coat the nanoparticles, to destroy lung cancer tumors. Is hyperthermia a “magic bullet” for cancer? “Probably not, but it’s one more weapon in our arsenal to fight this devastating disease,” says Anderson. In 2013 Anderson won the SEC Faculty Achievement Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching and scholarship, and she became Associate Dean for Administration and Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering. Anderson came to UK in 1987 after receiving her doctorate in chemical engineering and bioengineering from Carnegie Mellon University. Her research efforts have resulted in more than 55 publications and 100 presentations at regional and national meetings. Anderson’s honors include the Research Mentor Award from the University of Kentucky Undergraduate Research Program, the Outstanding Chemical Engineering Teacher Award, the College of Engineering Henry Lutes Teaching Award, and the UK Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Daniel PackDaniel W. Pack
Ashland Inc. Chair in Chemical Engineering
Dan Pack joined the University of Kentucky faculty in August 2012. Pack says, “The reason I came to UK was the opportunity to link engineering and pharmaceutical sciences. I’m looking forward to working with the Markey Cancer Center, one of the big things that drew me here.” Pack credits his research focus—engineering systems to deliver DNA, RNA and other genetic material to prevent, control and treat disease—to his tenure as an NIH postdoctoral fellow in Robert Langer’s lab at MIT. “He’s one of the ‘gods’ of drug delivery. In 1997 gene therapy was the hot new area. He presented me with a gene therapy project and let me run with it.” One of Pack’s patents came out of his time in Langer’s lab. “People had published a polymer that worked really well for gene delivery, but it was fairly toxic. We came up with a biocompatible version of that polymer, made up of naturally occurring molecules.” In total, Pack has seven patents. Several of those patents are from collaborative work at Illinois based on spherical particles that can deliver drugs via biodegradable polymers. This technology was licensed by a startup company founded by one of Pack’s former grad students. During his tenure at Illinois, Pack directed 15 Ph.D. students to completion and several of these students now hold faculty positions in engineering and pharmaceutical sciences. He earned two chemical engineering degrees: a bachelor's from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. Following his tenure as a postdoc at MIT, Pack returned to the University of Illinois as assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, with subsequent promotions to the associate professor and professor. Among his many honors, Pack received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and 3M Young Investigator Award.

Susan SmythSusan S. Smyth
Jeff Gill Professor in Cardiology
“I had a series of absolutely fantastic mentors who were incredibly influential in my career development. I feel a great need to give back,” says Susan Smyth, chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, director of the Gill Heart Institute, and director of the MD/PhD program at UK. The MD/PhD program is challenging, involving four years of medical school and between three and five years of graduate school. “Our goal is the train students to tackle clinically relevant problems—through critical thinking, experimental design, and understanding the underlying principles of advanced biomedical research.” Smyth also has a vested interest in mentoring women to become physician-scientists and cardiologists—two areas where women historically have been underrepresented. “We are fortunate to have had a series of female icons in cardiology at UK—Jacqueline Noonan, Nancy Flowers, Cindy Grines among them—who serve as role models for all women in medicine," she says. Smyth’s own research focuses on the interplay between inflammation and thrombosis, and in particular the contribution of blood and vascular cell adhesion and signaling receptors. Her team applies genetic and pharmacologic strategies in animal models of cardiovascular disease, in order to define cellular and molecular pathways and then tests those pathways in clinical studies in humans. “At the Gill Heart Institute we really do go from molecules to mice to men. We have a superb research group that connects both the basic science and clinical arenas and that is making an impact on the national level. Our vibrant clinical research unit offers unique options for our patients that would otherwise not be available in Kentucky.” Smyth earned an MD and PhD from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. She completed residency at the University Medical Center in Stony Brook, New York and fellowships at the Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York and at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Smyth came to UK in 2006.

Peixuan GuoPeixuan Guo
William Farish Endowed Chair in Nanobiotechnology
Peixuan Guo came to the University of Kentucky in 2011, bringing with him a nationally recognized cancer nanobiotechnology program and a wide spectrum of state-of-the-art instruments and funding. His lab has been continuously supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Department of Defense. Guo has joint appointments at the Markey Cancer Center and the UK College of Pharmacy. A pioneer of RNA nanotechnology, Guo organized the first international conference of RNA nanotechnology and therapeutics and currently is an editor or board member on four nanotech journals. His research tries to answer basic questions on the mechanisms used by viruses to package DNA, using molecular "biomotors" that work similarly to a mechanical motor. Guo's team constructed the first functional biomotor with purified components—known as the phi29 nanomotor, the most powerful biomotor constructed to date—successfully elucidated the mechanism of viral DNA packaging motors, and productively converted DNA-filled complexes into infectious virions in vitro using synthetic and purified recombinant components. Nanobiotechnology shows promise in the development of new treatments for cancer and other diseases by allowing targeted delivery of therapies to specific cells. Knowledge derived from Guo's basic studies also has potential application in solving a variety of other complex problems, including the development of molecular vaccines, single-molecule sensing of the environment, diagnosis of disease, detection of pathogens, even the design of chips or arrays for computer storage. Guo's laboratory employs diverse investigative approaches, including molecular biology, chemistry, biophysics, computer modeling, and mathematical quantification. Guo is also a high-tech entrepreneur and is the founder of two biotechnology companies.