Published: Nov. 16, 2021 By

Nicole Day in blue shirt with blue background
Nicole Day

Nicole Day, a third-year graduate student in the Shields Lab, is the 2021-2022 recipient of the Teets Family Endowed Doctoral Fellowship. The fellowship provides $15,000 a year for two years to support deserving students working in the nanotechnology field.

Day’s research under Assistant Professor C. Wyatt Shields is focused on shape-changing nanoparticles that regulate the delivery of cancer immunotherapies. Such treatments often result in adverse side effects because cancer-fighting drugs are toxic and may end up off-target, further complicating the medical condition of the patient.

“We want to control where immunotherapies go within the body and be able to turn off their delivery in off-target locations or when toxicity arises,” Day said. “The particles we’re designing have a specific geometry that allows them to attach to immune cells, such as macrophages, and exploit cell movement around the body so the drug contained within will be delivered preferentially to tumors.”

Day said these particles are made of a polymer containing special magnetic nanoparticles.

“Exposure to an alternating magnetic field causes these particles to generate heat, melting the polymer into a sphere and allowing the attached immune cells to internalize them and digest the drug,” Day said. “This allows us to selectively ‘turn off’ the drug everywhere except the tumor site, or if a patient experiences a negative reaction to the treatment.”

This technology may one day make immunotherapy treatment safer and more efficient than current methods without the need to design new drugs.

"This award is a testament to Nicole's creativity and hard work,” Shields, her advisor, said. “I am excited to see her project progress as she tackles new challenges in immunotherapy."

Peter Teets, an alumnus of the Applied Mathematics program, established the fellowship in 2002 to support graduate students working in micro- and nanosystems. Teets worked for 37 years in the aerospace industry and ultimately served as the president and chief operating officer of the Lockheed Martin Corporation before going on to serve as the under-secretary of the Air Force. Teets established the fellowship as a memorial to his son, David, who was also an alumnus of the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I’d like to thank the Teets family for their generous support of my research, my advisor for his mentorship and guidance, and my lab mates for their encouragement through the ups and downs of research,” Day said. “Additionally, I have had several fantastic undergraduate students working on this project with me.”

Day plans on working in industry after earning her PhD, where she hopes to pursue further research in the field of cancer immunotherapy.