NDSU Associate Professor of Coatings and Polymeric Materials Mohiuddin Quadir was awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (NSF CAREER) award. The $676,969 award will provide funding to investigate interactions occurring at the interface of nanoscale materials and an enzyme. To study these interactions, Quadir will develop polymeric nanocapsules that mimic intracellular organelles and proteins and respond to specific enzymes in the body. Quadir hopes that these smart nanomaterials will have potential applications in cancer drug delivery, manufacturing artificial cells, disease diagnosis, biosensing, and enzymatic control of environmental pollution.
Quadir’s research expertise is centered around a special type of properties of molecules, known as self-assembly or self-organization. A key aspect of this process is how molecules recognize each other and form higher-order structures and patterns governed by the chemistry of their molecular backbones. “It’s a simple and efficient way to create complex architecture from simple building blocks without any external intervention,” he explains. “An example of self-assembly is when you see a rainbow at the edge of a puddle of water in your parking lot or on your computer screen. That’s the result of a high concentration of amphiphilic molecules or liquid crystals self-assembled forming new nanometer-scale structures.”
Quadir generates these structures in the form of nanoparticles from macromolecules of diversified topologies, such as linear block copolymers, dendrimers, and hyperbranched polymers, the latter two being his personal favorites to work with. “Synthetic macromolecules that self-assemble to nanoparticles and respond to particular physiological stimuli render them perfect building blocks for forming nanoparticles for studying enzyme interactions” he said.
Quadir’s polymeric nanostructures are hollow capsules, surrounded by a membrane, that can contain other substances. Determining how the shell of these capsules interact with biological systems and break down to release their payload under multiple biochemical stimuli at the right time is a key question for him. “Finding the right combination of stimuli that breaks down nanocapsules is much like coding or creating a logic model on a chemical scale,” Quadir explains. “In order to ensure that nanocapsules respond to only the correct stimuli, a series of specific yes/no conditions must be first met.” This research has many possibilities for use, ranging from cancer drug delivery to chemical catalysis.
First working with dendrimer chemistry as a graduate researcher at Freie University of Berlin, Germany , Quadir studied under Professor Rainer Haag, a pioneer in this field. For postdoctoral studies, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and learned in the laboratory of Professor Paula Hammond, a trailblazer in the area of layer-by-layer self-assembly and synthetic polypeptide chemistry.
Both Haag and Hammond served as role models who shaped much of Quadir’s academic journey. Quadir relates how both taught him to preserve and to continue pushing the boundary of knowledge to solve multi-disciplinary problems. “They were always brave, never gave up, and they taught me to never shy away from any problems and to always be creative in finding solutions,” he said.
Quadir’s research at NDSU has been supported by two major NSF and NIH centers located on campus. Initially supported by the ND-EPSCoR Center for Sustainable Materials Science (CSMS) led by Professors Dean Webster and Mukund Sibi, Quadir was later involved as a junior investigator in the COBRE Center for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Strategies in Pancreatic Cancer (CDTSPC) led by Professor Sanku Mallik.
“Dr. Quadir’s award is great recognition for him and for NDSU’s leadership in coatings and polymeric materials,” said NDSU Vice President of Research and Creative Activity Colleen Fitzgerald. “NDSU was recently ranked nationally as the 14th largest in that discipline by the NSF HERD Survey and Dr. Quadir’s work in the key area of life sciences has the possibility of profoundly impacting people suffering from devasting diseases like cancer.”
Quadir’s research will involve both undergraduate and graduate students and collaborations both across and beyond the NDSU campus. The educational component of the project involves collaborating and building mentorship relationships with researchers and instructors at Tribal Colleges and the primarily undergraduate institutions across North Dakota. Quadir hopes to increase inclusivity in STEM education and research involvement of undergraduates from these areas.
NSF awards CAREER grants to scholars who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Overall, CAREER awardees at NDSU have received nearly $15 million in grants to conduct research in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, civil and electrical engineering, computer science, geosciences, pharmaceutical sciences, plant sciences, coatings and polymeric materials, and veterinary and microbiological sciences.
Quadir’s research is funded by NSF Award # 2239629, “CAREER: Nanoscale Interactions of Stimuli-responsive Nanoparticles with Enzymes”