Interdisciplinary NanoBioSciences Lab

The University of Mississippi

Thomas Werfel

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Joint Assistant Professor of BioMolecular Sciences

Affiliate Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering

 

Education:

Postdoctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, 2017-2018

Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Vanderbilt University, 2017

M.S. Biomedical Engineering, Vanderbilt University, 2015

B.S. Physics, Murray State University, 2013

 

Biosketch:

My long-term research interests lie at the interface of nanotechnology and cancer biology. Ultimately, my scientific goals are to both understand why nanomaterials have been less effective in humans than in animal models, and discover new cancer targets ideal for nanotechnology-based therapies. Mechanistic studies deciphering nanomaterial interactions with clearance organs (liver, spleen, kidneys), and investigating heterogeneities of enhanced permeability and retention for nanomedicines in tumors will help us improve the delivery of potentially life-saving nanomedicines to tumor tissue. My other major research goal is to translate targeted therapies that combat cancer deaths caused by recurrence, both local and metastatic. Metastasis accounts for > 90% of breast cancer mortalities and patients diagnosed with metastasis have a disease that is no longer curable by current treatment strategies. Thus, new, creative solutions are desperately needed to begin decreasing the unacceptably high rate of mortality within metastatic cancer patients.

 

I began research as an undergraduate, engineering a novel microplasma source for rapid, safe sterilization during endoscopic procedures under the direction of Dr. Halim Ayan at Murray State. Vital to my undergraduate experience were two subsequent summer research internships in biomedical engineering, a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Vanderbilt and the Biomedical Engineering Summer Research Program at Yale. As a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellow working under Dr. Craig Duvall, my graduate work focused on improving the delivery of siRNA to solid tumors, in order to block molecular targets that are ‘undruggable’ by conventional pharmacology. In the Duvall Lab, we engineered pH-responsive polymeric nanoparticles optimized to concomitantly overcome the comprehensive set of cellular and systemic delivery barriers to siRNA delivery.

 

I began my postdoctoral training in July 2017 under the mentorship of Dr. Rebecca Cook, a leader in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) Breast Cancer Program. Under Dr. Cook’s mentorship, I secured a NIH/NCI NRSA F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship to study new actionable molecular targets that contribute to breast cancer metastasis and resistance to therapy. We uncovered major roles for MCL-1 and mTORC2 in HER2+ breast cancer progression and resistance to therapy. We studied the effects of apoptotic cell clearance on tumor immunology, discovering that MerTK and IDO1 concomitantly support an immunosuppresive tumor microenvironment. And we have been working to identify drivers of platelet-mediated breast cancer metastasis.

 

At the University of Mississippi, we are working to establish an interdisciplinary research program that leverages tools from bioengineering, cancer biology, and translational science to make new discoveries that benefit patients suffering from the deflating diagnosis of cancer.