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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotecNexus > SHARING IDEAS AMPLIFYIES RESULTS IN CANCER NANOTECHNOLOGY: An interview with Ji-Ho Park, Ph.D. candidate in Material Science, UCSD CCNE (NanoTumor Center)

Adriana Vela
Founder & Chair

Years ago, the mantra among research communities was ‘publish or perish'. While publishing continues to be important, the mantra appears to be evolving into ‘partner or perish' given the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the impact collaborations have on the speed at which research is conducted and new discoveries are made.

October 18th, 2008

SHARING IDEAS AMPLIFYIES RESULTS IN CANCER NANOTECHNOLOGY: An interview with Ji-Ho Park, Ph.D. candidate in Material Science, UCSD CCNE (NanoTumor Center)

The advent of communication tools and the internet have become important enablers for information exchange and collaborations. Despite this, collaboration and sharing of ideas is not necessarily a given in all research environments especially across different disciplines. The NCI Alliance leads in this area by actively encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration and training. Similarly at UCSD, researchers benefit from a culture rich with collaborative spirit. One notable example demonstrating this spirit is UCSD Ph.D. candidate, Ji-Ho Park, a research member of Professor Michael Sailor's lab. Following is an interview with Ji-Ho about his role in Sailor's lab and his experience in a collaborative-intense environment.

AV: What lured you to UCSD in 2004 after completing your bioengineering degree in South Korea?
JHP: After researching many options, I chose UCSD for its reputation in the bio-related research. UCSD is also widely known for its academic record and culture that encourages interdisciplinary collaborations. These were two very important factors in my decision.

AV: Tell me how you got started with this research team and how you leveraged your background to make contributions.
JHP: When I first joined the project in the collaborations with the research groups of Michael J. Sailor (my advisor, UCSD), Erkki Ruoslahti (Burnham Institute for Medical Research), and Sangeeta N. Bhatia (Professor, MIT), the team was developing the strategies to amplify in vivo tumor targeting of diagnostic and therapeutic nanoparticles by mimicking biological phenomena occurring in the body. However, since they have been using commercially available nanomaterials for this project, it seemed difficult to me that they modify the nanoparticle surface or structure for their specific purposes. Since I have had a lot of experiences to synthesize several types of nanomaterials, I thought that the use of our own nanomaterials would help us develop new nano-tools in cancer research more readily, at that time, I have decided to be involved in providing our team with well-characterized and in vivo-applicable nanomaterials I synthesize.

AV: Earlier this year you were sited as ‘being the motivating force behind the discovery that gummy worm aggregates of nanoparticles stayed for hours in the bloodstream despite their relatively large size. Dubbed "Nanoworms", this discover was featured in ABC News and also was the subject of the cover of Advanced Materials's May issue where it also achieved recognition by the publication's deputy editor as being the ‘Most Accessed' article. How did that come about?
JHP: While many discoveries often come about by accident, my material science experience and focus has been on synthesizing new nanomaterials and taking advantage of important new properties. We constructed the nanoworms from spherical iron oxide cores that joined together, like segments of an earthworm, to produce tiny gummy worm-like structures about 50 nanometers long. Their iron-oxide composition allows the nanoworms to show up brightly in an MRI allowing us to locate tumors earlier. We believe that the nanoworm's flexibly moving one dimensional structure may be one reason for its long life in the bloodstream and ability to evade the body's protective mechanism that would otherwise eliminate them from the bloodstream before reaching its target.

AV: How does this interdisciplinary team effectively work and how does each member contribute?
JHP: In the present collaboration, our multidisciplinary team has been engineering multifunctional nanoparticles that will exploit biological processes to guide the targeting, self-assembly, and remote actuation of these materials to treat tumors in mouse models of cancer. Particularly, I have focused on synthesizing new nanomaterials that can be used to allow the early diagnosis and effective treatment of cancer in vivo. In order to accomplish our goal, multiple backgrounds such as clinical cases in tumor therapy, tumor biology, materials science, and bioengineering are required. As a materials scientist, I could not understand complex biological processes in tumors or generally of the body as much as oncologist and tumor biologist could. Likewise, they also would not solve problems in the aspect of materials science easily. Thus, the training through collaboration allowed me to share ideas with other groups, discuss problems together, inter-compensate for the parts which folks in other field may not be familiar with, and proceed to develop the new nanomaterial-based tools for cancer diagnosis and therapeutics which can be translated to clinics in near future.

AV: Has the model for collaboration been effective so far?
JHP: I believe that face-to-face discussion and collaboration between graduate students is most effective and necessary to better understand what is going on in each group and the level of give and take from one another considering the physical distance between the institutions. I frequently visit the Bhatia group at MIT crossing the country and spend some time in their lab to discuss the problems in each side, perform experiments together, and sometimes use the instruments we don't have in our institute to complete experiments. Additionally, some of our collaborative work have been done simultaneously at both institutes (e.g. nanomaterial synthesis and characterization in the Sailor group at UCSD and in vitro and in vivo targeting and therapeutic study using the nanomaterials in the Bhatia group at MIT). This collaboration enables me to focus on studying the research area more specialized to me (e.g. nanomaterial development) and contribute to the overall collaboration more effectively.

AV: How has your experience with collaborative projects shaped the way you see research in general? How has it shaped the way you view your career developing?
JHP: The training across the alliance has encouraged me to carefully listen to various opinions from other experts such as pathologists and clinical surgeons and design new nanomaterial platforms for biomedical applications. My research interest in bionanotechnology requires me to work on the interface between biology and nanotechnology and I will need a lot of help from experts in biology and medicine. Thus, the collaboration experience I have been through will allow me to choose my research topic in future post-doctoral position or career from more diverse and interdisciplinary fields. I am very happy to participate in the collaboration with world-class research groups through the UCSD CCNE program.

AV: What do you consider to be the most important lesson this experience has taught you?
JHP: I would say that opening my mind is the most important lesson I got from this experience. Generally, we don't try to listen to opinion from people working in other fields and keep our already-made decision or opinion to solve problems or do research. But through this collaboration, I realized that totally different approaches from people who have different backgrounds would help solve problems quicker in research.

AV: What are you goals after you graduate?
JHP: I would like to proceed with post-doctoral training and later become a professor at the University level teaching and doing research related to bioengineering and material science.

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