Tackling longstanding challenges in cancer treatment

Tackling longstanding challenges in cancer treatment

Stavroula Sofou is an associate professor in the Departments of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University and also an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She is also a member of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Sofou’s team is tackling two longstanding challenges in cancer treatment: how to target cancer cells expressing very few copies of certain receptors and how to achieve uniform distribution of therapeutic drugs throughout solid tumors.

Her research interests, currently funded by the National Science Foundation, revolve around fundamental studies of lipid bilayers with applications to drug delivery. She harnesses intermolecular and interfacial interactions of self-assembling materials in a biological setting, and—combining this knowledge with engineering principles—designs successful devices to promote human health. Translational research on testing and optimization of these devices, as both diagnostics and therapeutics for medical applications, are her special interest.

Her team is testing a new binding geometry—liposomes that form “sticky patches” as a result of a surface phase transition—in order to target known and well-characterized cell surface markers when very sparsely expressed on the surface of breast cancer cells. Her group applies this work to metastatic triple negative breast cancers. These binding geometries can successfully home in on just a single receptor, resulting in a very highly selective delivery process of lethal doses to cancer cells with minimal toxic side effects. Typically, a drug traveling through a tumor’s complex vasculature does not consistently reach all of the cancer cells within this tangled network, which crucially hampers therapeutic efficacy. The team has found that nanoparticles can act as initial carriers for the drug, which is then ferried throughout the tumor by a second-stage diffusion process, resulting in almost uniform spreading. With a greater population of cancer cells experiencing the drug’s impact, a much lower administered dose is needed for effective treatment.

In 1994, she earned her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens. Three years later, in 1997, she received her M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the Columbia University. In 2001, she earned her PhD in Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. From 2001 till 2004, she held a post-doctoral fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Stavroula Sofou received the Research Scholar Grant of the American Cancer Society as well as awards from the Coulter foundation, Susan G. Komen, and NYSTAR. Her students at Rutgers recognized her twice with Teaching Excellence awards.

She is married to Yannis Kevrekidis.