Objectives to design diagnostics and therapeutic technologies for cancer treatments in low and middle income countries was naturally up my alley.

Jeffrey Yang earned his B.S. in Bioengineering in the Fischell Department Class of 2017, and is now a first-year Ph.D. student in Assistant Professor Jenna Mueller’s Global Biomedical Devices Laboratory

“I’ve always held a keen interest in understanding how medical devices and technologies were engineered for use in the clinic, and the BIOE program at UMD was a great environment for me to answer the questions I had regarding clinical research and development,” says Jeffrey. As an undergraduate, he broadened his knowledge on various topics in the bioengineering field -  from biomaterial applications in tissue scaffolds to designing novel aptamers to bind target biomarkers. 

“The curriculum provided me with a comprehensive perspective on the growing field, along with the interdisciplinary aspects in medical research and development,” explains Jeffrey. “I also gained the foundation I needed to understand the process behind developing a medical device for use in the clinic, and applied that knowledge through the BIOE Capstone project.” Jeffrey prototyped and tested a low-cost endobronchial check valve that streamlined amphotericin B administration to treat pulmonary fungal infections. 

After earning his BIOE Bachelor’s degree, Jeffrey worked as a Research Associate and Analytical Validation Specialist at Prometic Biotherapeutics, Inc. in Rockville, MD. Prometic Biotherapeutics, Inc. is the US subsidiary of Liminal Biosciences, a global clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing novel treatments for patients suffering from diseases with a high unmet medical need.” 

“While I worked there, Prometic was developing Ryplazim(R), an investigational plasma-derived therapeutic designed to treat congenital plasminogen deficiency,” explains Jeffrey. “Patients have to undergo multiple surgeries to remove the fibrous lesions that form in the mucous membranes, and Ryplazim(R) is a replacement therapy aimed to treat this condition. My role in the project entailed validating assays established in the lab to ensure quality control compliance during drug production and developing new methods to discover and monitor any in-process impurities found in the drug substance and product. I was also tasked with researching different formulations and presentations of the Active Biological Product to pursue new clinical indications, such as diabetic foot ulcers and burn wounds.”

After a few years in industry, Jeffrey returned to BIOE in Fall 2020 to pursue his doctoral degree in the new Global Biomedical Devices Lab, led by Jenna Mueller. The lab group is focused on developing safe, affordable, feasible diagnostic and therapeutic technologies to improve the management of cervical cancer and other cancers in the United States and in low and middle income countries (LMICs).

Over 70% of cancer-related deaths occur in LMICs, primarily due to a lack of access to basic cancer diagnosis and treatment services. Only 30% of LMICs reported having pathology and treatment services available due to shortages in equipment and trained personnel. Cancer mortality could be substantially reduced by focusing on early detectable cancers, such as cervical, oral, breast, and colorectal cancers, which have high cure rates when detected and treated early. Specifically, the lab uses engineering design methods, rapid prototyping and fabrication, optical imaging, chemical ablation, bench testing, and small and large animal models to develop and evaluate biomedical technologies for improving cancer management globally.

“When I came to UMD as an undergraduate student, I was part of the Global Public Health Scholars program, where I learned about the global socioeconomic disparities in developing countries and gained an appreciation for the acknowledgement and efforts made towards ameliorating health inequalities in low and middle income countries,” says Jeffrey. “Dr. Mueller’s objectives to design diagnostics and therapeutic technologies for cancer treatments in LMICs was naturally up my alley.”

His current research interests involve optimizing low-cost technologies and cancer therapies for translation into the clinic. In the Mueller Lab, Jeffrey is exploring different applications of ethanol ablation with other cancer therapies as combinatorial treatment modalities for various cancers. Ethanol ablation is a low-cost, alternative therapy that injects ethanol directly into a tumor to induce necrosis, and has demonstrated comparable efficacy and patient survival rates to that of surgical removal of such tumors. 

After a year of research in the Mueller Lab, Jeffrey is motivated to continue developing technologies and therapeutics designed to treat cancer and other diseases, in hopes that the work produced will improve the quality of life for patients and everyone else.