UM Chemical Engineering Student Conducting Drug Delivery Research

John Hendershot is searching for more efficient process to combat breast cancer

Senior chemical engineering major John Hendershot is conducting research to build nanoparticles capable of effectively delivering anti-cancer drugs into tumor vasculature. Submitted photo

A senior chemical engineering major at the University of Mississippi is seeking to improve the efficiency of drug delivery to key immune cells in breast tumors.

John Hendershot of Franklin, Tennessee, is studying “Targeted Nanoparticle Drug Delivery to Tumor Associated Macrophages.” The project aims to build nanoparticles that better reach specific tumors during drug therapy.

“Tumor vasculature (tissue) expands so rapidly that they leave gaps in the blood vessels, making them resemble sponges,” Hendershot said. “Nanoparticles are tiny enough to permeate these gaps present within tumor tissue. What I’m seeking is to build nanoparticles capable of effectively delivering anti-cancer drugs into these tissues.”

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. Hendershot said he decided to study this topic because the research could contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer. He submitted a proposal for a UM Undergraduate Student Research Grant and was approved for the summer.

“As I’ve been working in the lab, I continue to find and better understand the many complex components that make up nanoparticles,” he said. “Thus far, I have succeeded in synthesizing and characterizing the building blocks of the nanoparticle.”

Hendershot is making significant progress on his research, said Thomas Werfel, UM assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

“He was able to synthesize novel materials that we will continue to optimize to build drug carriers that will be capable of specifically delivering anti-cancer drugs to macrophages (an important immune cell that can support the growth of tumors),” said Werfel, who also serves as Hendershot’s mentor.

“Importantly, John picked up a lot of new skills in organic polymer synthesis and characterization that I believe he will carry with him as he pursues his future graduate studies. John is an eager and engaged student and has a great attitude.”

Moving forward, Hendershot’s primary goals are twofold: to build the nanoparticle and test its drug delivery effectiveness.

“My short-term goals are the continuation and advancement of the research project and producing a first-author manuscript for publication,” Hendershot said. “My long-term goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in chemical or biomedical engineering and build a career conducting research at a nonprofit research organization or university.”

Hendershot credited his Ole Miss engineering education with providing him technical knowledge for his research and the teamwork and problem-solving skills necessary to keep moving forward.