Pharmaceutical Sciences student awarded for research in nanotechnology to treat stroke and brain tumors

Xinyue (Sheena) Dong
Xinyue (Sheena) Dong

Xinyue (Sheena) Dong has spent the last four years as a pharmaceutical sciences graduate student researching how nanoparticle-based systems could be used to deliver treatments and treat brain disease. Recently, she was recognized for her hard work with the annual Harriett B. Rigas Outstanding Woman in Doctoral Studies Award presented by the Association for Faculty Women.

Originally from Chongqing, China, Dong came to Washington State University in 2015 after completing her undergraduate coursework at the China Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing, China.

“As an international student who has never been to the US before joining the program, I received lots of help from faculties, staff and other graduate students at WSU. I quickly adapted to the new environment and made a lot of friends here,” said Dong.

In April 2020, she completed the work for her PhD degree from the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences with the successful defense of her graduate dissertation, “Design and engineering of nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems for improved therapy of ischemic stroke and glioma.”

The defense of her dissertation wasn’t the first time Dong’s research has been put to the test. During her time at WSU, she has shown herself to be an accomplished researcher and effective communicator, having published 13 peer-reviewed papers, six as first-author or co-first author, and received awards for the 2019 WSU Three-Minute Thesis Competition (First Place), and First and Second Place for the 2018 and 2019 Research Day Poster Presentation Competition at WSU Spokane campus.

Her research focuses on utilizing nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems to deliver therapeutics to the diseased brain to treat two brain diseases: ischemic stroke and glioma (a type of brain tumor).

“Brain diseases cause high disability and mortality, but current treatments are still unable to cure most of the brain diseases. Effectively delivering the drugs to the brain is a major challenge. Therefore, I want to utilize a novel delivery approach, nanoparticle-based drug delivery system, to improve the therapeutic efficacy of the drugs for brain disease treatment,” said Dong.

The nanoparticle-based drug delivery system packages drugs in the mini-scale nanoparticles. She aimed to use nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems to 1) treat ischemic stroke through the targeting of inflamed tissues and 2) treat glioma by bypassing the blood brain barrier to improve the delivery of anti-cancer drugs.

She explained that using nanoparticles could allow for the specific targeting to inflamed tissue (such as in stroke patients), prolong delivery of treatments, and control drug release (so that only inflamed tissue that needed treatment were exposed to the drug therapies).

In the case of glioma, she further explained that one of the challenges of treatment is getting the drugs to the tumor. People have a blood-brain barrier which protects the brain but can also prevent treatments from reaching tumors in the brain. By using neutrophils (a part of the white blood cells which can eat up any foreign objects they see in the bloodstream), the nanoparticle-drug system can be transported by neutrophils to cross the blood-brain barrier. Once neutrophils reach the brain, the anti-cancer drugs will be released to fight the tumor.

After leaving WSU this spring, Dong is headed on to a postdoc research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where she will continue her research into brain diseases.