Mohiuddin Quadir, NDSU Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials

We applied for a ‘North Dakota Corn Council 2016 Producer Education Mini Grant’ to initiate our research on corn-based polymers that can be used in biomedical settings. We have selected a biopolymer, Arabinoxylan (AX), which is abundantly present in corn, and investigated the feasibility of using AX for synthesizing nanoparticles. We are envisioning to use these nanosystems for drug delivery applications in cancer.

One of the major challenges in current cancer therapy is the inability of the potent anticancer medicine to specifically target the cancer site, resulting in the disposition of severe toxic effects in patients. Another major treatment challenge lies in the fact that, anticancer drugs are very low molecular weight compounds, and human body excretes these molecules out of the system by means of liver or kidney clearance. With the advent of nanotechnology (science of using materials at very small scale, 10-9 times smaller than a meter) over the last few decades, cancer research has been using nanoscale drug carriers which can encapsulate the small drug molecules and transport them specifically to cancer tissues. Synthetic polymers are usually employed to synthesize nanocarriers in particulate forms for this purpose. However, these synthetic systems increase the cost of treatment severely, and in some cases, also show severe toxicity in animal models and in humans.

Hence, we attempted to use biobased, corn-derived polymer, such as AX, to replace synthetic polymers to prepare nanoparticles for cancer therapy. Such approach will open a completely new avenue of using corn byproducts which will not only benefit the corn growers, but also will have a long-lasting impact on medical and environmental sectors. Originally our idea was to use xylan as the biopolymer obtainable from corn, but eventually we discovered that the aromatic derivative of xylan, (i.e. arabinoxylan), will be a much more profitable biopolymer than xylan. AX can be easily extracted from corn and show multifunctional, water-dispersible properties. Hence, we utilized the process of ‘self-assembly’ to generate ultra-small spherical particles (nanoparticles) of AX to encapsulate potent drug molecules inside these nanostructures.

Within the scope of the mini grant of $5,000, we have employed several undergraduate students who worked on different phases of the project and standardized an extraction condition of AX, identified chemical properties of AX, and synthesized AX-based nanoparticles by ‘self-assembly’-driven procedure. This mini grant mostly supported the undergraduate salary and the cost of supply and equipment. We have also used the mini grant to pay the recharge center facilities for utilizing different instruments for analysis of our AX-derived nanostructures study to investigate the physico-chemical properties of AX.