Dr. Keith R. Miller
(Biochemistry, Immunology, Medicinal Chemistry, Nanoparticles, Chemical Education)
Research in my lab primarily focuses on developing cancer treatments using the body’s natural defenses in the immune system. This interdisciplinary research is a combination of biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, immunology, and nanoparticle development.
Undergraduates in my laboratory group develop and perform experiments creating novel nanoparticles called liposomes for effective targeting and manipulation of immune cells, specifically macrophages, against cancer cells. Our studies center on the chemical composition, liposome size, charge, and targeting groups on the liposome nanoparticle for aiding their ability to target macrophages for efficient drug delivery.
Students gain hands-on experience with:
- Human cancer cell lines
- Nanoparticle production
- Fluorescent microscopy
- Tissue culture assays
Some of the titles of recent undergraduate research projects include:
- “Potential cancer treatment: macrophage activation using nanoparticles”
- “The targeting and activation of 264.7 RAW macrophages via a novel tuftsinyltuftsin-grafted lecithin liposome carrier.”
Immunotherapy is a growing field where medicinal chemists develop novel drug delivery methods to activate or deactivate immune cells for a wide variety of diseases. One of the more difficult areas of immunotherapy is selectively targeting the immune cells and eliciting the appropriate response for disease treatment. In cancer, this is challenging because the cancer cells mimic the host’s cells preventing the immune system from differentiating between the two. To address these concerns, one avenue of research is development of liposomes. Liposomes are spherical nanoparticle vesicles composed of lipid bilayers separated by aqueous compartments. They can encapsulate a wide variety of molecules, which can associate with the aqueous compartments, the lipid bilayer or the interface. Mononuclear phagocytes clear liposomes naturally as part of the mononuclear phagocytic system, which is cited as being involved in many inflammatory diseases and pathogenic infections. The chemical composition, liposome size, charge, and targeting groups on a liposome all aid or hinder its ability to target to macrophages or other cell types for efficient drug delivery. Once the liposomes are inside the macrophage, destruction of the liposome releases the inner proinflammatory cargo for macrophage activation, which elicits pro-inflammatory signals for recruitment of an immune response against the cancer cells.
Finally, I am also heavily interested in upper level STEM education and classroom curriculum development. Specifically, I have a significant interest in the development of undergraduate grant writing curriculum to enhance the critical thinking, primary literature involvement and general enthusiasm for research by undergraduates in the STEM fields. To elicit these interactions, several of my courses focus on grant writing projects in addition to an extra-curricular STEM seminar series that covers a wide variety of novel research and newsworthy topics for discussion by a wide interdisciplinary audience.