The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Alan Esker, a professor of physical chemistry in the College of Science, for his research into the use of polymer stabilized magnetic nanoparticles for biomedical diagnostics and drug delivery systems.
Esker's research is aimed at understanding the properties of magnetic nanoparticles, or MNPs, at surfaces and interfaces and providing insights into using MNPs for biomedical diagnostics and the treatment of diseases. In particular, this research focuses on studying the interaction of MNPs with "biological soaps," or lipids, which include triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, the principal components of cell membranes.
The ultimate goal of the research is to harness MNPs for hyperthermia, or the use of heat to alter the physiological state of cells. One example of this would be to trap drugs inside MNPs and use a magnetic field to deliver them to the exact site of the diseased cells. An alternating magnetic field could then be used to generate heat with the MNPs to melt the stabilizing polymer coating and release the drug to the specific site, thereby avoiding damage to healthy tissue. This work has applications in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and blindness resulting from macular degeneration.
Esker earned a bachelor's degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is a member of the Center for Adhesive and Sealant Science and the Macromolecular Science and Engineering program faculty at Virginia Tech. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the 3M Untenured Faculty Award and the Omnova Solutions Signature University Award.
He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and the Neutron Scattering Society of America.