University of Maryland researchers receive $50,000 grant, participate in NSF I-Corps Teams program

Researchers from the Fischell Department of Bioengineering at the University of Maryland received a $50,000 grant through the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to explore the commercial potential of their platform for treating residual peritoneal cancer lesions during surgery.

The team includes BIOE Associate Professor Huang-Chiao (Joe) Huang, Ph.D. student Sumiao Pang, and Postdoctoral Associate Carla Arnau Del Valle.

Huang is the team’s I-Corps principal investigator, while Pang is the entrepreneurial lead and Arnau del Valle is the technical lead. Ashok Chetty, vice president of marketing and new business development for Hexion, Inc., is the industry mentor.

Pictured, from left to right: BIOE Ph.D. student Sumiao Pang and Postdoctoral Associate Carla Arnau Del Valle.

Through the grant, the group participated in the NSF’s National I-Corps Teams program in Fall 2023. National I-Corps Teams is an intensive, seven-week training that guides participants in engaging with prospective customers, partners, and others in the ecosystem to evaluate the commercial potential for turning their technologies into successful products.

Tentatively calling themselves Team LAMP (light-activatable multiagent nano-platform), the group has developed technology to manage advanced cancer in the peritoneal region (tissue that lines the abdominal wall and pelvic cavity), such as ovarian cancer.

“Our technology targets cancer lesions that are sometimes missed or left over during surgery,” Pang explained. “We Introduce a targeting agent, light-activatable component, and drug, all co-packaged onto a nanoparticle.”

Cancer receptors then recognize the targeting agent and take up the nano-formulation.

“Finally, we introduce a specific light wavelength to the area, which activates the drug and causes cytotoxic [cell-killing] effects,” said Pang.

The platform combines chemotherapy with photoimmunotherapy (PIT).

“PIT offers targeted tumor destruction through the combination of light and antibody-drug conjugates (ADC),” said Huang. “Nanomaterials play a crucial role by enhancing the pharmacokinetics of ADC, as well as enabling the co-delivery of chemotherapy. Successful clinical translation of PIT-based therapies hinges on interdisciplinary collaboration spanning physics, biology, chemistry, and engineering, customer discovery, industry engagement, and robust clinical trials.”

Huang’s team and collaborators published a paper on their technology titled “Fluorescence-guided photoimmunotherapy using targeted nanotechnology and ML7710 to manage peritoneal carcinomatosis” in Science Advances in September 2023. Barry J. Liang, formerly a Ph.D. student in the Huang lab, is the first author on the paper.

After attending an NSF I-Corps Hub Mid-Atlantic regional cohort in April 2023, the LAMP team was selected for the National I-Corps Teams program.

Pictured, from left to right: BIOE Ph.D. student Sumiao Pang, Postdoctoral Associate Carla Arnau Del Valle, and Associate Professor Huang-Chiao (Joe) Huang.

“The local I-Corps program taught us how to effectively interview potential customers and understand their problems,” said Pang. “It was interesting and useful, especially for learning about our market.”

The team’s interviews of potential customers for national I-Corps started in Maryland, then spanned to Boston, New York, Florida, and as far away as Brussels.

“National I-Corps gave us the opportunity to really expand our customer discovery,” said Huang. “We attended conferences, meeting surgeons and oncologists, as well as nurses who provide care for patients before, during and after surgery.”

Additional collaborators in developing the team’s technology have included Dana M. Roque, Associate Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Tayyaba Hasan (Professor), Professor of Dermatology, Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.