What do Mark Zukcerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Zhen Gu have in common?

Zhen Gu, a researcher at N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill sine 2012, is one of the select few named to the prestigious MIT Technology Review’s “35 Innovators Under 35” list.

Gu, 34, joins previous notables such as Google’s co-founders and the founder of Facebook.

Why did MIT select him?

The magazine cited Gu for developing an innovative means of treating diabetes through “microneedle” patches. However, he is working on multiple other projects, including a revolutionary means of fighting cancer.

Gu is no stranger to WRAL TechWire readers.

“If the war on cancer is won – finally – someday, a team of scientists and students in the joint biomedical engineering program at N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill could be a significant reason. … In an exclusive interview with WRALTechWire, the lead author of a new paper describes the potentially big breakthrough using small, small particles,” WTW wrote in January 2014.

“Dr. Zhen Gu, an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program who is focused on pharmacoengineering research, says the team has been working on the concept of using nanoparticles to deliver what he calls “programmed” cancer therapy for about a year and a half. They have already filed a patent on their idea, are looking for grants to support further reasearch, and are even contemplating starting their own company. The paper was published in Advanced Functional Materials.

“The early results are very promising, and we think this could be scaled up for large-scale manufacturing,” Gu says.”

About the MIT honor, Gu called it “exciting.”

“It is very exciting to be recognized for my innovation and passion for using science and technology to help people and – hopefully, eventually – both improve peoples’ quality of life and save lives,” Gu told Matt Shipman of NCSU’s news service.

Targeting diabetes

In the latest list, which has been compiled since 1999, Technology Review headlines Gu’s mini-profile this way:

“Diabetics are tired of sticking themselves with needles. Someday they may not have to”

“Problem: People with diabetes must monitor their blood sugar and inject themselves with insulin several times a day. Even those with insulin pumps risk complications from injecting too much or too little insulin,” wrote Anna Nowogrodzki.


“Zhen Gu, a researcher at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University whose grandmother died from diabetes complications, is developing insulin delivery mechanisms that could be better. The most recent one is a fingernail-size patch covered in more than 100 microneedles. When you put the patch on your skin, you feel momentary pinpricks as the needles poke into your blood vessels. …”

A growing list of achievements

But Gu is working on much, much more, as Shipman points out.

Gu has “created dozens of technologies and techniques aimed at delivering the right drug to the right place at the right time to maximize the impact of therapeutic medications. Gu’s work is truly interdisciplinary, drawing on biomolecular engineering, materials chemistry, nanotechnology and other fields in his efforts to develop more effective drug delivery tools and techniques,” Shipman wrote.

“Gu’s research on regulating insulin in diabetic patients was recognized by the American Diabetes Association earlier this year with $1.6 million in funding under its Pathway to Stop Diabetes initiative. Gu’s work on diabetes includes the development of a “smart insulin patch” and multiple injectable nanoscale systems that can help to regulate insulin. Gu is currently working with pharmaceutical companies to move these inventions into clinical trials.

“Gu has also developed a suite of new approaches for targeting the delivery of anti-cancer drugs directly to tumors.

“Gu has created nanoscale “daisies” and graphene “flying carpets” that deliver anti-cancer drug cocktails directly to cancer cells. The graphene flying carpets also have mechanisms that deliver each drug to the specific part of the cancer cell where it will do the most damage – as does another technique he developed that uses so-called gel liposomes.

“Gu’s lab has also developed ‘nano-cocoons,’ nanocapsules and a delivery system activated by the presence of the “energy molecule” ATP, all of which have ways of tricking a cancer cell into absorbing them before triggering the release of the anti-cancer drugs – like tiny, anti-cancer smartbombs. While these techniques are not ready for clinical application, Gu plans to launch a start-up company to commercialize his technology.”

Read more at: https://news.ncsu.edu/2015/08/gu-innovators-2015/