Cancer Does Not Discriminate

Mubashar Rehman, Chemical Engineering Visiting Scholar—As he was growing up in Pakistan, Visiting Ph.D. Scholar Mubashar Rehman was inspired by the important contributions his father made to agricultural science. “I realized at a young age that scientists can make a real impact on the lives of people every day,” recalls Rehman. “I always knew that I wanted to work hard and make a significant contribution to human health.”

While earning his masters in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan, Rehman discovered that certain nanomaterials—specifically, fatty acids—could help reduce pain and promote healing for patients suffering from musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis.

“Swollen joints have a higher temperature than the surrounding tissue, and certain materials have the natural ability to target those high-temperature areas and deliver drugs much more effectively,” Rehman explains. His groundbreaking discovery was featured in International Journal of Nanomedicine, a leading scholarly journal edited by Professor Thomas J. Webster, Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern.

In 2014, when Rehman was investigating areas of research for his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Islamia University, he realized that aggressive brain tumors also have a high temperature, due to their high metabolic rate. He decided to focus his doctoral research on developing new nanomaterials that could deliver drugs directly to cancerous tumors in the brain, without the need for punishing invasive surgery.

As his research progressed, however, Rehman recognized that he needed a human tissue model that included actual cancerous cells. As he read academic papers on nanomedicine and cancer research written by Webster, Rehman saw a perfect fit with his own interests. In addition, he discovered that the Nanomedicine Lab at Northeastern, led by Webster, has created one of the world’s only novel blood brain barrier models, which allows scientists to test their treatment therapies on actual human brain cancer cells.

In November 2016, Rehman joined the Nanomedicine Lab at Northeastern as a visiting scholar, supported by funding from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. Here, in addition to conducting successful in vitro trials of his innovative drug delivery methods, Rehman learned world-class cell culturing techniques that will advance the state of cancer research back home in Pakistan.

“It was an incredible experience to work alongside Professor Webster and his research team, which includes some of the world’s leading expertise on human brain modeling,” notes Rehman. “While our eventual goal is to bring new nanomaterials to market that will effectively treat brain cancer, the impact of my stay at Northeastern is much wider-reaching. By sharing our expertise, Northeastern’s researchers and I have been able to advance the foundational knowledge of nanomaterials and their applications in healthcare—which will have global implications.”

“Mubashar came to Northeastern with a great deal of knowledge and experience with in vivo brain studies,” says Webster, “and he was able to make groundbreaking strides here using our in vitro human brain model. The impact of his stay here cannot be underestimated, as his research represents an enormous departure from current brain cancer treatments, which require highly invasive surgery to open the skull, remove the tumor, and inject large amounts of chemotherapeutic drugs. Typically brain cancer patients never fully recover. But Mubashar’s research has the potential to change all that. We are happy to partner with him in his ongoing investigations.”

“I always wanted to help the greatest number of people I could, and what disease is more lethal than cancer?” states Rehman. “I remember reading an article that said cancer could potentially claim all your loved ones—males, females, children, elderly people. Cancer does not discriminate. That really formed my career aspirations, because I realized I could make a huge difference for many, many people. I hope my collaborative work here at Northeastern is just the beginning of treatment breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way we treat cancer, as well as outcomes and quality of life for people around the world.”

Related Faculty: Thomas J. Webster

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering