Yue Yuan

Unidirectional energy-dependent drug efflux mediated by cellular membrane proteins results in the failure of many anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agents. One strategy to enhance tumor retention of imaging agents, or anti-cancer drugs, is designing probes that undergo a tumor-specific enzymatic reaction that prevents them from being pumped out of the cell. In the Bulte lab, we used a rational design approach to develop a cell-penetrating, small molecule probe — Olsa-RVRR — which consists of the anti-cancer agent olsalazine (Olsa), conjugated to the furin-targeted peptide RVRR. By virtue of a biologically compatible condensation reaction, Olsa-RVRR monomers can be subjected to furin-induced intracellular condensation to form CEST MRI-detectable and therapeutic nanoparticles (Olsa-NPs) in targeted tumor cells. Hence, our work provides a potential platform for imaging tumor aggressiveness, drug accumulation and therapeutic response.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins greatly attracted me because of its world-class medical research, outstanding scientists, and top-notch facilities. And Dr. Bulte is one of the fabulous scientists in the molecular imaging field.

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

As a biochemist, I feel so honored and grateful to receive this Albert Lehninger Young Investigator Award. It not only provides a validation of my research, but also encourages me to be better in the future by following the example of Dr. Lehninger.

What contributed to your project’s success?

There were three major factors that contributed to the project’s success: encouragement and guidance provided by my mentor Dr. Bulte; continuous support by the Pearl and Yueh-Heng Yang Foundation; and advanced resources at Johns Hopkins.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles students and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

Young Investigators’ Day provides a very important stage for recognizing and motivating trainees at Hopkins. It also offers a great opportunity for the internal collaboration among these young scientists.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Working in the Bulte Lab and at Johns Hopkins has been a very memorable experience, in general. Outside of work, we recently had our first baby, which is probably the most memorable experience.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I am planning to be a principal investigator and to start my own lab.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

I enjoy watching movies and writing poems in my free time.