Doctoral student Rachel Lieser (center) partnered with her two faculty advisors, Wilfred Chen (right), Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering and Millie Sullivan (left), Centennial Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, on breast cancer research.

For breast cancer research, engineering graduate student combines two labs’ expertise
Unlike most doctoral students, University of Delaware student Rachel Lieser has not one, but two faculty advisors.

One is Wilfred Chen, Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering, an expert in protein engineering. One is Millie Sullivan, Centennial Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, an expert in biomaterials and drug delivery. The three of them are working together to develop better treatments for inflammatory breast cancer. So far, they have developed a technique that selectively kills cancer cells in a cell culture model. They utilize amino acids not found in nature to strategically deliver proteins to receptors on the surfaces of cancer cells. When the cells internalize these proteins, they produce a toxin that kill the cells from within—thus, the proteins act as ‘suicide enzymes.’

Lieser, Chen and Sullivan described their results in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry in 2019, and for this work, Lieser won a Best of BIOT Award in Emerging Technology from the Division of Biochemical Technology (BIOT) of the American Chemical Society.

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