M.Eng. Capstone Project Highlight: Commercializing Nanocarriers for Neurological Diseases

By Iris Wu

Developing nanocarriers to deliver medicine to inaccessible regions of the brain to treat neurologic and brain-related diseases.


The Problem

Treatment of neurologic and other brain-based diseases has lagged behind the treatment of other systemic diseases due to the biochemical differences of the brain compared to the rest of the body. The primary challenge facing patients and physicians today is the difficulty of getting medicine through the bloodstream to the brain. The Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) is a natural, protective layer that protects the brain from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. However, this impermeable barrier also blocks nearly one hundred percent of drug compounds from reaching the brain regions.

The Solution

“What if you could treat brain tumors with an injection in the arm? Our Capstone team is working to commercialize 3HM, a groundbreaking drug delivery platform with the potential to revolutionize the way we combat neuro-cancer.” — Justin Hong

The team’s Capstone Project* focuses on the development and commercialization of a nano-carrier, known as 3HM, specifically designed to help transport drugs from the blood to the brain. Even before the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) team started work on this project, Dr. Ting Xu had completed animal models with 3HM, revealing the nano-carrier’s unusual propensity to accumulate in brain tissue, especially brain tumors.

In order to move the project forward the M. Eng. team was brought on to find out the best disease markets to target, which pharmaceutical products to carry inside, and what industry and/or government regulations would need to be overcome in order to commercialize the nanocarrier.

Thus far the team has determined to target glioblastoma multiform (GBM), an extremely aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer, as their primary market.

Chemotherapy drugs are a great candidate to pair with 3HM due to their small size, high toxicity, and inability to cross the BBB on their own.

Specifically, the team has decided to pair 3HM with doxorubicin, an extremely effective chemotherapy drug that is currently off patent. They have also begun research into the long and complicated process of getting the nanocarrier-drug combination into clinical trials and the level of GMP (good manufacturing practice) they will need to make sure the compound is safe for use in humans.

Moving forward, they will continue to work with the Xu Lab in figuring out the scientific techniques and GMP required to scale up the production and manufacturing of 3HM to commercial levels. At the same time, they are starting the process of moving the IP out of the university and into a startup company that can begin to raise the funds necessary to put 3HM through clinical trials. The hope is that one day in the not too distant future, 3HM would serve as both a research and clinical platform for which multiple chemical therapeutics could be delivered to the brain.

The team presenting at the UC Berkeley Capstone Expo

Meet the Team

Cohesive, dynamic teams are few and far in-between, but we can all confidently say that our team falls into that category. We are a team of six engineers who come from all different walks of life. Biochemistry to international relations, recent graduates to army veteran, United States to China. Rather than divide us, these differences have brought us closer together with the addition of fresh perspectives and ideas. We believe strongly in open communication and have struck a good work-life balance. It goes without saying that we trust each other to put our best foot forward, and we absolutely will as we approach final Capstone presentations and beyond.
  • Mackenzie Steinbach — Bioengineering
  • Erik Woodruff — Bioengineering
  • Sam Willardson — Bioengineering
  • Zack Tedoff — Bioengineering
  • Justin Hong — Bioengineering
  • Yikai Hong — Materials Science and Engineering

If you’d like to reach out to their team, please email justin_hong@berkeley.edu


*A core part of the UC Berkeley Masters of Engineering experience is the Capstone Project, where students develop real-world solutions to address crucial industry, market or societal needs.