Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. J. Zach Hilt


Despite recent advances, cancer remains the second leading cause of deaths in the United States. Magnetic nanoparticles have found various applications in cancer research as drug delivery platforms, enhanced contrast agents for improved diagnostic imaging, and the delivery of thermal energy as standalone therapy. Iron oxide nanoparticles absorb the energy from an alternating magnetic field and convert it into heat through Brownian and Neel relaxations. To better utilize magnetic nanoparticles for cancer therapy, surface functionalization is essential for such factors as decreasing cytotoxicity of healthy tissue, extending circulation time, specific targeting of cancer cells, and manage the controlled delivery of therapeutics.

In the first study, iron oxide nanoparticles were coated with a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) based polymer shell. The PEG coating was selected to prevent protein adsorption and thus improve circulation time and minimize host response to the nanoparticles. Thermal therapy application feasibility was demonstrated in vitro with a thermoablation study on lung carcinoma cells.

Building on the thermal therapy demonstration with iron oxide nanoparticles, the second area of work focused on intracellular delivery. Nanoparticles can be appropriately tailored to enter the cell and deliver energy on the nanoscale eliminating individual cancer cells. The underlying mechanism of action is still under study, and we were interested in determining the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) catalytically generated from the surface of iron oxide nanoparticles in this measured cytotoxicity. When exposed to an AMF, the nanoscale heating effects are capable of enhancing the Fenton-like generation of ROS determined through a methylene blue degradation assay. To deliver this enhanced ROS effect to cells, monosaccharide coated nanoparticles were developed and successfully internalized by colon cancer cell lines. Upon AMF exposure, there was a measured increase in cellular ROS and apoptosis that was attributed to lysosomal disruption since the surface functionalization selected inhibited the Fenton-like surface chemistry. To overcome this surface inhibition, a biodegradable poly(β-amino ester) (PBAE) polymer coating was synthesized to deliver bare iron oxide to intracellular components. Delivering enhanced ROS to cancer cells is a promising new route of therapy that deserves future studies.