Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Focus: Dr. Muna Aryal

Combining Engineering and Radiation Oncology helps this professor develop therapeutic and imaging technology to improve human health

Pursuing a career in Engineering is personal for Muna Aryal, an assistant professor of Engineering and Radiation Oncology who holds appointments in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Stritch School of Medicine.  Dr. Aryal joined Loyola University Chicago’s faculty to conduct interdisciplinary research and teach the next generation of engineers and scientists.  Her research is related to biomedical engineering, using a promising technology called focused ultrasound at Stritch School of Medicine and collaborating with the research scientists from Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center (CBCC).

 

 

How did you develop an interest in Engineering?

I earned a PhD in Physics from Boston College.  For my thesis, I had a chance to join a research group at Harvard Medical School.  There, I was exposed to medical engineering technology (for example, transcranial focused ultrasound to achieve noninvasive and targeted treatment of neurological diseases and disorders).  After my thesis advisor told me about treatment options for a patient with a brain tumor, I thought about how we could apply physics to enhance human life.  I saw how my aunt struggled with treatment for a tumor and realized how technology could change – and potentially improve – a person’s life.  

 

What is the focus of your work?

The goal of our lab is two-fold: first, we strive to advance ultrasound technology for non-invasive brain imaging and therapy.  Second, we seek to translate those approaches into the clinic to improve patient care.  In other words, we identify different ways to use ultrasound for brain-related diseases and cancer to help determine how the therapeutics work. Our findings will be used in basic, applied, and translational research.  

Our lab is equipped with noninvasive and targeted drug delivery tools.  Specifically, we are tailoring the use of acoustic energy either alone or by combining it with nanoparticles to achieve noninvasive and targeted brain treatment which cannot be achieved by any current neuro-technologies. 

 

What is the role of ultrasound in drug delivery?

Today, there is not one single technology by which we can deliver the right drug to the right target of the brain at the right time noninvasively.  Transcranial-focused ultrasound becomes an ideal technology that can noninvasively deliver drugs to any point in the brain. We approach our research and development in three areas:

  1. Combining ultrasound with microbubbles to open the blood-brain/tumor-barrier (BBB) locally, to deliver a chemotherapeutic administered intravenously to treat brain cancer.  (Delivery of therapeutics into the brain is challenging because almost 100 percent of large and 98 percent of small molecules in medications today are prevented from entering the brain because of the BBB).
  2. Using the versatile platform of drug-loaded, ultrasound-sensitive polymeric nanoparticles that can encapsulate small, neuro-modulatory molecules to allow selective drug release with ultrasound within the targeted neurovascular system, delivering the molecule to the right neuronal network at the right time without opening the BBB to achieve precision.
  3. Using only ultrasound to increase the convective flow of a therapeutic agent administered within the cerebral spinal fluid to achieve drug delivery along with lymphatic clearance.

Pursuing a career in Engineering is personal for Muna Aryal, an assistant professor of Engineering and Radiation Oncology who holds appointments in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Stritch School of Medicine.  Dr. Aryal joined Loyola University Chicago’s faculty to conduct interdisciplinary research and teach the next generation of engineers and scientists.  Her research is related to biomedical engineering, using a promising technology called focused ultrasound at Stritch School of Medicine and collaborating with the research scientists in the Department of Cancer Biology from Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center (CBCC). 

Our lab is equipped with noninvasive and targeted drug delivery tools.  Specifically, we are tailoring the use of acoustic energy either alone or by combining it with nanoparticles to achieve noninvasive and targeted brain treatment which cannot be achieved by any current neuro-technologies. 

 

How does an inter-disciplinary approach benefit your research?

I am a physicist and engineer by training.  My lab seeks to develop a therapeutic and imaging tool to see how we can better use ultrasound as a drug delivery mechanism and better understand its use for treating cancer and other diseases.

The collaboration with scientists and researchers at the CBCC is critical to my work because their input can accelerate the translation of my research into patient trials.  My CBCC colleagues help select the right preclinical brain cancer model and explain how tissues respond to the application of a specific therapeutic.  This collaboration gets us closer to realizing the concept of “precision medicine” or highly individualized medicine.  In addition, CBCC scientists and researchers can use the new imaging tools to identify molecules that could help us evaluate therapeutic interventions and understand those interventions at very basic levels.  Through this partnership, we are hopeful that we can discover applications for using ultrasound – in brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases, that can help predict the therapeutic benefit of a drug – or understand how toxic it is.

I am a physicist and engineer by training.  My lab seeks to develop a therapeutic and imaging tool to see how we can better use ultrasound as a drug delivery mechanism and better understand its use for treating cancer and other diseases.

The collaboration with scientists and researchers at the CBCC is critical to my work because their input can accelerate the translation of my research into patient trials.  My CBCC colleagues help select the right preclinical brain cancer model and explain how tissues respond to the application of a specific therapeutic.  This collaboration gets us closer to realizing the concept of “precision medicine” or highly individualized medicine.  In addition, CBCC scientists and researchers can use the new imaging tools to identify molecules that could help us evaluate therapeutic interventions and understand those interventions at very basic levels.  Through this partnership, we are hopeful that we can discover applications for using ultrasound – in brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases, that can help predict the therapeutic benefit of a drug – or understand how toxic it is.

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About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is the oldest of Loyola University Chicago’s schools, colleges, and institutes. More than 150 years since its founding, the College is home to 19 academic departments, 30 interdisciplinary programs and three interdisciplinary centers, more than 400 full-time faculty, and nearly 8,000 students. The 2,000+ classes that we offer each semester span an array of intellectual pursuits, ranging from the natural sciences and computational sciences to the humanities, the social sciences, and the fine and performing arts. Our students and faculty are engaged internationally at our campuses in Rome, Italy, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as well as at dozens of University-sponsored study abroad and research sites around the world. Home to the departments that anchor the University’s Core Curriculum, the College of Arts and Sciences seeks to prepare all of Loyola’s students to think critically, to engage the world of the 21st century at ever deepening levels, and to become caring and compassionate individuals. Our faculty, staff, and students view service to others not just as one option among many, but as a constitutive dimension of their very being. In the truest sense of the Jesuit ideal, our graduates strive to be “men and women for others.” For further information about the College of Arts and Sciences, please visit our website at www.luc.edu/cas/