David Medina Cruz

Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering

“I work with nanomedicine to develop biologically-derived treatments for drug-resistant diseases.”

In the war on drug-resistant diseases, David Medina sees himself as the arms manufacturer. Medina, a Chemical Engineering PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry, works in the field of green nanomedicine, developing bespoke treatments for diseases resistant to normal medications. Though the technical term for these treatments are “nano-micro-bio-factories”, Medina refers to them as weapons. “We use natural materials and living organisms to make these weapons,” he explains, “to kill superbugs, drug-resistant cancers, things like that. Essentially, we use bacteria to fight bacteria, and cancer to fight cancer.”

By altering the targeted disease to produce a nanoparticle lethal to it, the bacteria, cancer cells or virus instead kill themselves as they attempt to spread. The key to this approach, Medina says, is the way their nanoparticles are produced: “In other approaches, people use chemistry or physics to produce nanoparticles, we decided to use the diseases themselves. So, the nanoparticle comes from the organism they are intended to kill.”

He gives as an example the drug-resistant bacteria MRSA, a source of many hard-to-treat infections that develop in open wounds. “In a MRSA-infected wound, you would have both MRSA bacteria, and good bacteria that normally exist in your body,” Medina explains, “To kill the MRSA, we sample it from the wound and grow it in the lab. Once it has grown, we introduce a poison. The MRSA reacts to the poison and releases a nanoparticle. We take those nanoparticles and reintroduce them to the wound, and the nanoparticles know to only kill the MRSA bacteria, leaving the beneficial bacteria alive.”

This approach has shown medical promise, as well as market potential – it is both faster and far less expensive to produce than traditional antibiotics. Medina is moving fast to capitalize: with patents secured, he and his team are working with multiple start-ups seeking funding for further research. Moving fast is the norm for Medina – he is on track to complete his PhD in 2020, after only three years, and is already cementing his post-doctoral research plans. All of this, he says, is in pursuit of a singular goal. “The idea was to finish as soon as possible. It’s not enough just writing papers, I want to see my product getting to the market and helping people. That is where I can have the greatest impact.”

“I want to address real world challenges, the kind that people face every day, and that kill people every day.”