Two BME students receive awards at UFHCC Research Day

Two BME Ph.D. students, Adam Grippin and Jose Varillas, received awards at the UF Health Cancer Center (UFHCC) Research Day, which aims to foster education and training and to build research collaborations throughout the University of Florida campus.

Adam Grippin was honored with the UFHCC Dissertation Award for his project entitled, “Engineering Delivery of Immunomodulatory RNA Nanoparticles Targeting Malignant Glioma.”

Grippin proposes to evaluate an exciting nanoparticle-based cancer vaccine under investigation in the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. He is specifically interested in studying the effects of nanoparticle uptake in different organs on immune responses to RNA-nanoparticles (RNA-NPs). After identifying immunologically important tissues, he plans to modify particle characteristics to enhance delivery to these sites. Through this project, Grippin will leverage his engineering background and the expertise of his mentors, Drs. Duane Mitchell and Jon Dobson, to take his nanoparticle formulation from the bench through pre-clinical development while answering fundamental questions in cancer immunology.

Jose Varillas was honored with the UFHCC Predoctoral Poster Award for his project entitled, “Isolation, Detection, and Analysis of Circulating Tumor Cells in Microfluidic Devices for Monitoring Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Response.”

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive solid tumors clinically characterized by local invasion, early metastasis, and resistance to standard chemotherapy. The goal of Varillas's research is to design and utilize microfluidic devices to isolate and enrich tumor cells circulating in the peripheral blood of cancer patients. CTCs have the potential to act as a minimally invasive liquid biopsy for cancer, providing clinicians and researchers with a tool to learn about the metastatic process and assess the risks of metastasis in localized disease. With the help of his mentors, Drs. Hugh Fan and Thomas George, Varilla has developed a microfluidic platform to track the frequency of CTCs in patients as they undergo palliative chemotherapy. Varillas plans to design and fabricate a microdevice with the capability to isolate tumor cells and perform functional assays at the single-cell level, without harm or disruption of normal cell function.

Congratulations, Adam and Jose!