Dr. Courtney Dumont Wins NSF CAREER Award

Dr. Courtney Dumont

Courtney Dumont, PhD, Assistant Professor Department of Biomedical Engineering and The Miami Project, leads the Neural Stem and Tissue Engineered Microenvironments (NeuSTEM) group conducting groundbreaking research at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Her rising career is now furthered via the National Science Foundation (NSF) prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. The NSF CAREER award focuses on a specific nanoparticle project, and more broadly allows Dr. Dumont to build upon her work at the interface of neural, vascular, and immune engineering to overcome barriers that arise after injury to the nervous system.

Central to Dr. Dumont’s research is the engineering of modular biomaterial systems for gene, drug, and stem cell delivery to promote repair of the central nervous system. The NSF CAREER award hones in on a specific tactic in this broader strategy, focusing on the utilization of nanoparticles (NPs) of polymeric origins. Unlike conventional drug carriers, polymeric NPs are not pre-loaded with therapeutic cargo but instead are meticulously engineered to target and sequester specific molecules within the body. In the case of Dr. Dumont’s CAREER project, the NPs will have two phases, engineered first to hunt specific cytokine targets, and after sequestering cytokines to then be identified and ingested by specific immune cells known as macrophages. This design approach starts with anti-inflammation that then transitions to immune modulation.

Along with the unique bi-phasic action engineering into these molecules, the polymeric NPs are comprised of simple components that degrade into biocompatible constituents, such as sugars. Dr. Dumont’s project takes advantage of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a class of sugars, to tune the NP properties. In particular, potent negative charge of GAGs facilitates precise targeting and interaction with target molecules, particularly cytokines, key mediators of inflammation. Due to the natural presence in the body of the materials the NPs are made of, Dr. Dumont’s polymeric NPs ought not be viewed as conventional drugs.

Action on multiple targets, engineerability of target specificity, and controlled degradation highlight why polymeric NPs offer unparalleled versatility and biocompatibility. Dr. Dumont and her NeuSTEM team now carry out their NSF CAREER award project using polymeric NPs due to their ability to seamlessly integrate into biological systems and undergoing controlled degradation ensures minimal toxicity and maximal therapeutic efficacy.

The clinical implications of Dr. Dumont’s research are far-reaching, with acute emergency management emerging as a primary use case. The rich history of neurotrauma at The Miami Project underscores the pivotal role of inflammatory processes in conditions such as paralysis following brain and spinal cord injuries, clearly implicating application of polymeric NPs in neurotraumatic cases. As Dr. Dumont’s pioneering work continues to unravel the mysteries of polymeric nanoparticles, the prospects for engineering step-wise systems therapeutics aimed at neurological outcomes has never been more promising. Stay tuned as Dr. Dumont leverages her NSF CAREER award to set her professional trajectory on a fast track to engineering world-class neurotherapeutics.