Developing safer chemotherapeutics (Prof. Sarah Kim)

3 students are sought for a project on “Developing safer chemotherapeutics” with Prof. Sarah Kim that will begin on 6/1/2024 and last for 10 weeks

Project Description:

You may remember that after we received our COVID vaccines, we were asked to wait 15 minutes before leaving the facility. This was due to the possibility that the vaccine could cause severe, life-threatening allergic reactions that would require hospitalization for treatment. What component of the vaccine could be the culprit of these severe allergic reactions? One leading candidate is a molecule – a synthetic polymer – called polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG is derived from petroleum. For some people, their bodies identify PEG as an unnatural, toxic molecule that should not remain in the body. Consequently, their immune system reacts and launches a severe allergic reaction in response to PEG. It has been known since the mid-2000s that PEG can cause allergies in a small fraction of patients. Unfortunately, the number of people developing allergic reactions to PEG is on the rise. However, avoiding PEG is not easy. It is in cosmetics, shampoos, toothpaste, and even in our food! Furthermore, PEG is an essential component in hundreds of drugs, including vaccines and chemotherapeutics. Consequently, drugs that incorporate PEG are becoming less tolerable and less effective. It is essential that safer alternatives to PEG are developed. My lab aims to develop safer alternatives to PEG by taking inspiration from nature. There are molecules within our bodies – natural polymers – that could be a safe substitution for PEG. Since these natural polymers already exist within our bodies, using them in drugs should not cause allergic reactions. This summer, we will be reformulating chemotherapeutics that incorporate PEG. We will synthesize the natural polymers using bacteria. After substituting PEG with natural polymers, we will evaluate the properties of the reformulated drug. This work is done in collaboration with a physician-scientist at Duke University who evaluates if our reformulated drugs are still effective at killing cancer cells.


General Chemistry. Fundamentals of Biology would be helpful but not necessary.

Special Comments

Project Information

Estimated Start Date: 6/1/2024

Estimated End Date: 8/9/2024

Maximum number of students sought: 3

Contact Information: Prof. Sarah Kim (