Antibodies — the specialized proteins responsible for identifying and routing out disease — are the subject of a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development grant awarded to Dr. Tai-Hsi Fan, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering.
Dr. Fan’s CAREER research will center on the development of an accurate predictive model depicting how monoclonal antibodies clump together during manufacture, delivery or storage. Monoclonal antibodies are the key component rendering pharmaceutical drugs effective in combating disease. But when this aggregation occurs, it impairs the ability of antibodies to bind with antigens, reducing the effectiveness of the disease-fighting drugs. If researchers can better understand this aggregation behavior, drug manufacturers may be able to prevent it from occurring, thus extending the functional life of the drugs. Dr. Fan said that overcoming the aggregation hurdle may yield billions of dollars in health care cost savings and improve widespread access to the life-saving medicines particularly in developing countries.
He expects to engage both engineering and pharmaceutical sciences students in the interdisciplinary nano-bio-mechanics training, and to make the study results widely available to high school teachers, K-12 students and other using podcasting technology.
Dr. Fan joined UConn in 2005 from the Max-Planck-Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany. His research spans a breadth of mechanical and biomedical engineering areas, including the development of miniature cell culture system, cell membrane mechanics involved in microinjection process, and colloid dynamics in polymer solutions.
Dr. Fan received his Ph.D. from Georgia Tech in 2003 and worked as an aerospace design engineer at Chen-Tech Industries in Irvine, CA for several years, earlier in his career.
Another of his funded research projects, with collaborators Dr. Joanne Conover (Physiology and Neurobiology) and Dr. Xudong Yao (Chemistry), aims to unveil the ideal physiological conditions for the self renewal of human embryonic stem cells.
To date, 24 UConn engineering faculty have garnered NSF CAREER Awards.