Fargo, N.D. – Ihor Tarnavchyk’s brief 2008 visit at NDSU helped lead to a new product used to treat burns. Now the Ukrainian researcher is hoping to use his second stay to develop innovative ways of delivering cancer-fighting drugs within the body. Tarnavchyk is a researcher in the organic chemistry department at Lviv Polytechnic National University in Lviv, Ukraine. In October 2011, he began a nine-month stay at NDSU’s coatings and polymeric materials department through the Fulbright Scholar Program.
Less than 20 Ukrainian scholars study in the United States each year as Fulbright scholars. The program, established in 1946, is funded by the U.S. Department of State and exchanges scholars and students between the United States and foreign countries.
Tarnavchyk is using the opportunity to design, synthesize and study polymeric materials that can be used to form self-organized nano- and microsized carriers for drug delivery. Essentially, Tarnavchyk said he hopes to create hydrogel polymer particles that can carry cancer-fighting drugs through the bloodstream.
While at NDSU, Tarnavchyk has synthesized and studied the hydrogel particles, which have a biodegradable core and biologically compatible shell. The next steps of his research include studying the hydrogel’s ability for drug loading and release, stability and biological degradability. “The main idea is to change the method of drug delivery as it has a significant effect on drug efficacy,” Tarnavchyk said. “Most drugs have an optimum concentration range with highest efficacy, but can be toxic or inefficient above or below this range.”
Ideally, the hydrogel particles would be loaded with cancer-fighting drugs and injected into the body, where they would slowly degrade and release the drugs. This would maximize and extend the drug’s effectiveness to combat cancer cells while potentially alleviating the sickness chemotherapy patients suffer as a side effect.
Tarnavchyk said he is appreciative of the chance to continue his research at NDSU. “During my project here I can easily and thoroughly study any processes,” he said. “For me, as a researcher, it is a very important facility for my research project implementation. What I like is that it is a really user-friendly system. I can use lots of devices at NDSU and get some courses and training if necessary.”
Tarnavchyk also is able to contribute to NDSU research projects. He and members of NDSU’s mechanical engineering department are studying the impact of hydrogel lubricants in the artificial joints used in knee and hip replacements. The joints are built of metal and polymers, which wear and create debris over time. The debris causes inflammation and soft tissue damage currently alleviated through joint maintenance and eventual replacement. “We consider that a few injections of lubricant can protect wearing and avoid debris formation,” Tarnavchyk said.
Another possibility is that hydrogel can be injected into a human joint to provide lubrication, lessen pain and delay replacement. “The goal is to get as close as possible to naturally based lubricants,” said Andriy Voronov, assistant professor of coatings and polymeric materials at NDSU. “We know the principle of what nature uses in the human body to protect against friction. We are trying to mimic that with synthetic materials.”
Voronov, who has been at NDSU since 2007, met Tarnavchyk in Germany while the two were developing a hydrogel-based bandage. The bandage, which affixes medication-containing hydrogels to a polymeric net, is used to treat burn wounds. Tarnavchyk and Voronov obtained a joint Ukrainian patent for their design, which is being manufactured in the Ukraine.
Tarnavchyk developed the hydrogel bandage in part during a 2008 visit to NDSU before returning to the Ukraine to earn a doctorate in polymeric chemistry. “It was a great opportunity to carry out my research in one of the top U.S. research universities,” he said.