Han pioneers drug and nanoparticle delivery in pancreatic cancer and the brain

6/5/2024 Helen Chang

New MechSE Prof. Bumsoo Han brings his career expertise and groundbreaking work in drug and nanoparticle transport in tissue microenvironments for pancreatic cancer and brain research related to Alzheimer's and dementia.

Written by Helen Chang

Portrait of Bumsoo HanProfessor Bumsoo Han joined the MechSE faculty in January after 14 years on the faculty at Purdue University in the Mechanical Engineering department. He also served as program leader for the Drug Delivery and Molecular Sensing Program at the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research.

Han also holds affiliate appointments in the Materials Research Laboratory, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, and is a Phil & Ann Sharp Scholar in Cancer Research for the Cancer Center at Illinois.

“I took a non-traditional mechanical engineering path,” Han said. His PhD research focused on gas turbines and heat transfer, with postdoctoral research specifically on bioheat transfer.

“Although my research started with those topics, I am now working on the transport of fluids, matters and energy in the body,” he said. “It regards how to control heat, fluids and particles transfer to diseased and injured tissues and organs.”

Han credits his background in heat transfer with informing his current work on applications of engineering in the human body. “[My background has] helped me understand how those processes worked in humans,” he said. “My goal now is to improve human health through mechanical engineering.”

Although Purdue and Illinois have long been collaborators and competitors in this field, Han shared why he decided to leave Purdue for Illinois.

“The cancer center at Purdue started from a very strong biology background in drug discovery, since their strong suit is in pharmaceutics,” he said, noting that Illinois uses an extensive number of resources centered around engineering, like new imaging and diagnostics tools, to assist patient care and drug discovery.

“The great thing about Illinois is that the university is designed to be more collaborative from an interdisciplinary perspective,” he said. “People collaborate between different departments and colleges. It’s much easier and more natural to work at the research centers and institutes across multiple departments and colleges.”

Han said the reason he chose to study biology and cancer research was caused partly by luck.

“I wanted to try something different since I spent my entire college education pursuing traditional mechanical engineering,” he recalled. “I was lucky when I was graduating from my PhD. A faculty member in the same department was looking for a postdoctoral scholar to work on bioheat transfer. That's when I started my first bioengineering research. In another incident about 10 years ago, I was attending a conference in Boston and on my return flight to Chicago, I coincidentally sat next to MechSE Professor Taher Saif. Throughout the flight, we discussed our research, which might lead to me coming here.

“My group has been working on developing the tissue and disease models for drug discovery,” he continued. “Two types of tissue we are focused on now are pancreatic cancer and brain function in Alzheimer's and dementia.” His current research at Illinois revolves around drug and nanoparticle transport in tissue microenvironments for pancreatic cancer and brain research.

Transitioning to Illinois opened vast opportunities to work in more extensive research with new materials and resources, and Han was excited to start.

“I started collaborations with Illinois when I was at Purdue a few years ago," he said. “Each time a faculty member or graduate student needed something from a collaborating lab, they would visit each other’s campus. It just seemed more logical to be on the same campus as our collaborators.”

Han’s current plan is to prepare for expanding his research in the Cancer Center by setting up his lab and making sure logistics with his postdoctoral students are resolved.

“My lab creates an environment to collaborate with different fields, and it can provide a unique field to work with biology, chemistry, medicine, and even clinicians,” he said.

For fall 2024, Han is looking for passionate undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral scholars, to join his research group. Students interested in research opportunities should email bumsooh@illinois.edu and can read publications from the Han Research Group at https://www.biotransportgroup.org/.

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This story was published June 5, 2024.