Brown Assistant Professor of Engineering Anita Shukla has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award of $550,000 over five years. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award “in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
“The NSF CAREER Award is a tremendous honor for junior faculty and we’re thrilled for Anita,” said Larry Larson, Sorensen Family Dean of Engineering at Brown. “This award is an important milestone in helping her to continue conducting impactful research and mentorship.”
Shukla’s award is for “targeting therapeutic liposomes to fungal infections.” Targeted nanomaterials have the potential to improve the efficacy and selectivity of therapeutics. These materials, including polymer and lipid based nanoparticles, have been developed almost exclusively for cancer, beginning with discovery of enhanced permeation and retention (EPR) mediated passive targeting, followed by a range of advancements in active targeting. These same concepts have not yet been fully explored in the context of treatments for infectious diseases, despite an understanding that EPR also occurs in microbial infections. Microbes threaten human health and food security, and microbial infections are one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Although new therapeutics and therapeutic delivery systems can combat these infections, innovation in this space has focused mostly on bacteria and viruses.
Shukla’s research under this award will address fungal infections. These infections can be extremely invasive and recurrent, and treatments are often highly toxic due to similarities between fungal and human cells. Targeted antifungal nanomaterials have the potential to increase antifungal efficacy while reducing the toxicity associated with these drugs. To date, there has only been one report of an actively targeted antifungal nanoparticle. A key technological gap exists in understanding methods to actively target antifungal nanoparticles to fungi. Shukla plans to study approaches for targeting new antifungal liposomes to fungal cells. Although she will be focusing specifically on fungal infections caused by Candida species, the most common cause of fungal infections, one long-term goal is to develop a platform for future development of targeted antimicrobial nanomaterials.