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NEWS RELEASE

05-21-02

Contacts:
Surya Mallapragada, Chemical Engineering, (515) 294-7407
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881

Surya Mallapragada IOWA STATE PROFESSOR NAMED A TOP YOUNG INNOVATOR

AMES, Iowa -- Plastics have paid off for Surya Mallapragada, an Iowa State associate professor of chemical engineering. Mallapragada has been named one of the world's top 100 young innovators by Technology Review, a technology magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was chosen for her research in polymeric biomaterials, advanced plastics used in a wide array of medical procedures.

Mallapragada will be honored on May 23 at the TR100 induction ceremony at MIT. The TR100 is an annual event honoring young innovators whose contributions have a significant impact on technology.

"This is a great honor for me," Mallapragada said. "I owe it to the support of my family and friends, and most importantly, to my students who did all the work and made it possible."

Polymeric biomaterials are being developed for use in drug delivery, gene therapy and tissue engineering applications. Polymers are large molecule compounds made from smaller, chemically bonded molecules. Substances such as starch and nylon are considered polymers.

"We synthesize new polymers with tailored properties for specific applications," said Mallapragada, who also is associate director of the Microanalytical Instrumentation Center at Iowa State and an associate scientist at the Ames Laboratory, a Department of Energy lab on the Iowa State campus.

In a new approach to drug delivery and possibly gene therapy, Mallapragada's group is currently exploring pH- (the measure of acidity or alkalinity in a substance) and temperature-sensitive drug release methods using "smart" polymers. These polymers respond to changes in their environment.

For example, her group has found that these polymers are liquid at room temperature, but when their temperature increases to that of the human body, the polymers turn into gels. Basically, the polymers would become gels after injection into a human, and then would act as drug dispensers -- dissolving bit by bit to administer a dose of medicine in response to pH changes in the body. The target drug for this work is insulin, she said.

Because the polymers have a positive charge, Mallapragada added, they also are being explored for their efficacy in delivering DNA into cells.

Mallapragada and her research team also are using adult optic-nerve-derived stem cells to regenerate optic nerves by incorporating micro-patterned biodegradable polymers. These micro-patterned biodegradable plastics are many times thinner than a human hair, and provide tiny channels in which neurons can regenerate.

By adding a protein coating and Schwann cells (cells that wrap around nerve fibers to aid in transmitting nerve impulses) to the surface of the polymer, Mallapragada has found that these micro-grooved materials provide the right conditions for high levels of regeneration for sciatic (back) nerves. Essentially, she is attempting to mend damaged nerves cell by cell.

This year's TR100 ceremony is entitled "The Innovation Economy: How Technology is Transforming Existing Businesses and Creating New Ones." Judges for the TR100 include officials from academia and industry.



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