Shouheng Sun gives frontiers in chemistry lecture

Lucy Tan, Campus Lectures Reporter

Last Thursday, after conversing over free coffee and tea, students and faculty began to trickle into the Goodyear Lecture Hall for a lecture given by Shouheng Sun, Ph.D., a Chemistry professor invited from Brown University to speak as a guest lecturer for Case Western Reserve University’s Frontiers in Chemistry lecture series.

This lecture series, now in its 72nd year, dates back to 1941 and presents a set of unique and modern topics in the field of chemistry each year. This year’s topics are magnetism in chemistry and analytical chemistry. Guest lecturers are invited from distinguished institutions around the nation to speak at CWRU about their research.

Sun’s lecture, the first in this year’s lecture series, deals with magnetic nanoparticles for bio-imaging and therapeutic applications. Nanoparticles hold great promise for tumor and cancer patients, as they can be used for not only treatment, but also detection of tumors. The multifunctional nature of nanoparticles allows Sun’s laboratory to alter their size, shape, and composition in an effort to increase the efficacy of their treatment.

When dispersed in a patient’s circulatory system, magnetic nanoparticles have targeting agents that allow them to potentially gravitate toward tumors’ relatively acidic areas, where hydrogen peroxide levels are high. Under those conditions, magnetic nanoparticles release highly toxic drugs, eliminating cells specific to the tumor area. In Sun’s research, such nanoparticles specifically contain metallic iron, which, when released elsewhere in the body, “is simply oxidized by oxygen species to […] what [the] body needs as its iron nutrition,” Sun explains.

In addition to designing magnetic nanoparticles for therapeutic applications, Sun is also interested in their bio-imaging applications, where the same magnetic particles are detected by magnetic imaging devices, which doctors use for diagnosis of tumors and cancers.

The inspiration for Sun’s current research started from a magnetic nanoparticle project at IBM, where he worked for eight years before joining the chemistry department at Brown University. The future of nanoparticles, Sun believes, “should now focus more on [its] interface with biology. More specifically, we should study…their bio-circulation, bio-distribution, and bio-elimination profiles.”

Frontiers in Chemistry lectures are given on select dates throughout the year, on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. at Clapp Hall 108. The next lecture in this series will be given by Shan Wang, Ph.D. of Stanford University on Oct. 25. More information can be found on the CWRU Department of Chemistry website.